Sierra Andrews is an idea person. Even though she’s just starting college, she already has ideas of how she’d like to spend her career—coming up with innovations that help people in wheelchairs get around more easily.
“I’m planning to study computer science, but since my injury, I’ve been thinking about biomedical engineering as well,” says Sierra. “I can imagine using computer science to create a website that people could use to talk with others in a similar situation. It’s something that really helped me at Craig Hospital—connecting with people my age with spinal cord injuries.”
Sierra’s ideas are still gelling, but she’s intrigued by the concept of a programmable exoskeleton that would allow people with spinal cord injuries to stand and take steps for special occasions, like walking down the aisle on their wedding day.
Sierra spent two months at Craig in the spring of 2021 after she lost the use of her legs in a car accident her senior year of high school. Her home hospital in Wisconsin recommended that she go to Craig for spinal cord injury rehabilitation, and her grandmother helped secure a spot.
“I’m so glad I went to Craig. I learned so much, and the staff were really helpful and supportive. My physical therapist pushed me and kept me going. She made me repeat exercises and it was exhausting, but it paid off,” Sierra says. “And the technicians and nursing assistants were amazing and funny.”
Sierra appreciated how her Craig care team used humor to ease daily challenges. That habit of humor was picked up by her three sisters when she got home, one of whom makes TikToks about her mishaps in her wheelchair, which she admits can be a little dark to some people but she finds them funny.
“It’s definitely important to have a good sense of humor about your life after injury,” she says.
Sierra especially appreciated wheelchair skills class at Craig, where she learned powerful tricks to get around. She also enjoyed the driving and adaptive transportation program that empowered her to relearn how to drive, and the state-of-the-art PEAK Center, which she said made working out fun.
“I don’t usually like fitness centers, but I liked the PEAK Center. It gave me the upper body strength I needed to go longer and farther in my chair,” she says.
That confidence and strength to get around is coming in handy for Sierra as a freshman at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. It’s a small campus that’s easy to navigate, and she’s conveniently living in the dorms. She’s excited that, despite the pandemic, classes are in person. Sierra’s only concern is a big hill on campus that can get icy in the winter, but she’s confident she’ll figure it out.
“I look at what I can do instead of what I can’t, and I try to remember that practice makes better, rather than perfect,” she says.
Sierra’s friends describe her as sarcastic, passionate and driven. In high school, she excelled at cross country and track and she was a member of the National Honor Society. A positive attitude keeps her moving forward and keeps the gears turning in her creative mind. When asked what helps her cope, Sierra gave an answer that’s wise beyond her years:
“I think a part of it is lowering my expectations and changing my mindset. I’ve learned to not look at the rest of my life, but to look at just today.”