‘I Will Live My Life In My Chair The Same Way I Lived Life With Legs’
Community Unites Behind United Way Director Recovering From Spinal Surgery, Dealing With Paralysis
By Luther Johnson
The tree had just been put up.
But before the decorations could be added, the pain in Jackie Hall's back worsened.
The spasms began to immobilize her, and within a few minutes she couldn't move from the waist down. Her husband Jarrett helped her get to the couch and called for an ambulance.
She soon lost feeling in her legs.
Hall was flown to Winchester. After an initial MRI, doctors explained what had caused her back problems.
The pains and spasms were the result of an Arterio-Venous Malformation, an abnormal collection of blood vessels. The AVM disrupted the blood flow, causing pressure against her spinal chord.
A small portion of the population, about 5 percent, are born with an AVM, with those diagnosed usually found in the neck or head.
“By those standards, I am very fortunate mine presented between my shoulder blades, which left me with my arm function,” said Hall.
Weeks prior to that life-changing day, Hall had felt pains in her back. Both her and her doctor initially believed it to be a back spasm or pulled muscle.
Surgery was scheduled to clean out the AVM, which had formed a blood clot that burst against her spine.
“From the way it started six weeks prior, I never would have thought it was that serious,” said Hall.
After the first surgery, another MRI showed her spinal chord had been severely pinched, and that chances of her walking again were slim. Doctors went in for a second surgery to repair the damage.
Facing the possibility of not walking, Hall decided to accept whatever happened.
“I said to myself, okay God, if I wake up and still can’t walk, I’m going to be okay with that,” said Hall.
Accustomed to an active life, the former executive director of the United Way of Page County said this brought everything to a screeching halt. However, with two children, her family motivates her to keep going, and not get bitter.
“When you have a family, I think that would have been the poorest example I could have set,” said Hall.
Her kids have also come to accept what happened.
“[My daughter] didn't even blink an eye,” Hall said of her 4 year old.
But it was harder for her 16-month-old son to understand.
“Jeb thinks you're a monster,“ her daughter Evelyn said.
Previously confined to a bed at the University of Virginia Medical Center, with her body wrapped to help maintain her blood pressure, Hall said she understood why her son would have that reaction.
“You look so different in that setting; it was harder for him,” said Hall, adding that since being back home, she and her son are doing great.
Throughout the time Hall recounts what happened to her, she remains upbeat and positive. The only time she seems to break down is when she recalls the support shown by the community, family and friends.
“It’s beyond overwhelming,” said Hall. “You’re never used to being on the receiving end of that.”
Friends of Hall have been working this month to organize fundraisers.
“Everyone is just doing anything and everything we can to help them,” said Heather Sours.
Sours has known Hall since high school. They both worked together as tour guides at Luray Caverns.
“It’s the kind of need none of us understand,” said Sours, “and almost everyone is willing to help.”
Those that know Hall, or know of her family, have been discussing ways to help, Sours said.
A benefit dance and auction is being held Saturday, Jan. 31 to help raise funds for Hall’s medical expenses. The night will consist of a dance, an auction of bachelors, “Handy Husbands for Hire” and other items, with tickets going for $10.
Friends have also started a “Help us turn $10 into $10,000” campaign, with an account set at Pioneer Bank.
“I know there are at least a 1,000 good people in Page County willing to help this family,” said Sue Turner.
For Hall, the next step will be more physical therapy. She plans to learn to drive and remain an active United Way board member.
“I still have my mind; I still can contribute,” Hall said. “I will live my life in my chair the same way I lived life with legs.”