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June 01, 2015

Mary Colecchi: Redefining Advocate

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Mary Colecchi was only 22 years old in 2008, when she suffered a debilitating stroke. Part of her skull was removed to reduce swelling. After the stroke, she was in a medically induced coma for 6 weeks. Her family was told she had a 10% chance survival and slim scenarios of recovery. Mary continued to surprise everyone around her. Today, she gets around in a wheelchair and is making a difference. When she arrived home after rehab she saw some serious gaps in home health care. She went to the Colorado State Capitol to advocate for change. She became Ms. Wheelchair Colorado 2013 with the platform "Empowering individuals to come to the table where decisions are being made without their input and express their concerns for those who would otherwise be voiceless."

She started a non-profit to educate children and families about disabilities. Mary says her calling is to help others and their loved ones navigate their needs on the peer level. She continues to inspire others and advocate for persons with disabilities.

Q&A with Mary Colecchi

What are you up to these days?
I am still recovering from losing the woman who advocated for me when I was voiceless. Lorna Colecchi, my mom, coined the phrase "No Boundaries," when there was word of me going to assisted living (nursing home). She was my safety net. Losing her turned my world upside down. I have experienced a lifetime of challenges in those 2 years that are a part of my 7-year journey to my second chance at life. My mom wanted me to share the knowledge I acquired to help others. I want to help others now that I am coming out on the other side with the help of my dad, family, and friends. My long-term goal is to start an independence program.

What goal are you working towards right now?
I am putting my health first: putting better "fuel in the tank" (nutrition), exercising (including working with physical therapists on walking and getting stronger), along with psychologically and spiritually feeding my soul. I believe I have a bigger picture to help others understand what it is like to sustain a debilitating illness and/or injury, and feel it is a true calling for me to do so. Before the stroke, while pursuing a career in nursing, I thought I had a empathy. Yet I have since learned that the only way to truly have a sliver of understanding is to walk in another's shoes day in and out. Waking up as the patient in the blink of an eye forced me out of my narrow goals. I feel as though I am starting a fresh chapter of life, and I am excited to see that comes to fruition!

What would you say to other people and their families who are in rehab for a brain injury?
While in rehab at Craig I wish I would have taken more time to familiarize myself with all the options and resources to assist in making progress after Craig. I was so focused on my individual physical progress I didn't take in to account life after Craig for myself and my family. I always say CU Hospital saved my life, Craig gave me a wide variety of experiences to start to live life again, and an Independent Life Skills Trainer(ILST) helped me explore options for what my new life could consist of.

What would you like the world to know about people living with brain injuries?
The brain is capable of accomplishing the unexplainable also known as miracles. Brain injuries come in many forms some visible (wheelchair, cane, etc), while others "invisible" meaning there is no visible difference. Brain injuries affect everyone involved: survivor, family members, friends, working relationships, etc. It is vital that everyone be aware that you and everyone of your loved ones are all mourning a loss and/or adjusting no matter how subtle the changes are. Everyone involved will struggle at some point, and it is important to have a "toolbox" of resources available. Among the options are Vocational Rehab, ILST, Brain Injury Counselor, Respite Care and Personal Care Workers.

How do you redefine possible?
Once I took control of my own life and started following my heart many unbelievable doors started opening. What I have come to believe is that every single one of us has the power in our own lives to define what is possible and redefine possible as frequently as we wish to. I was told "won't" a lot very early in my recovery, I turned those "won't's" in to "watch me's." I am sincerely grateful to those people who put limits on my recovery. Without them the bullheaded stubborn Taurus in me might not have woken. Before my stroke, if I would have been told "you will be a presenter at a Brain Injury Alliance Conference, Ms. Wheelchair Colorado 2013, get major Colorado State health care policies improved, etc." I wouldn't have believed it! Frankly I can barely believe it looking back! Which makes me elated to see what I have in store for my future.

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