Her paralysis started with a pinch between the shoulder blades.
But she didn’t think much of it; her twin boys were turning one and as a new mother, pain was common.
Then her legs began shaking, and her fingers numbed. Out of control, lying in bed, she became nervous.
So she called her mom and they drove to Central Peninsula Hospital, all the while her spine swelling, choking her nervous system.
About four hours later, back in May 2005, then 21-year-old Maggie Winston burst into Providence Alaska Medical Center. She couldn’t walk, but her arms still functioned.
Her friend who had just had a cesarean section rolled to Winston’s room in a wheelchair and watched the last function fade from her friend’s hands.
And then Winston was on a Seattle-bound plane.
“That’s basically how it happened. Really quick. One quick shebang,” Winston said.
Winston’s immune system, spurred by a cold, had attacked her spinal cord. Doctors call it Transverse Myelitis, and most who suffer it are left with a limp. But the attack swept up Winston’s neck, hitting her in C3.
Now the 29-year-old Winston lives in a motorized wheelchair that she drives with her chin. She can shrug her shoulders some; she has two 9-year-old twin boys, Dylan and Daemon Duniphin; and she lives in a Soldotna group home. “It’s cool because I do have a lot of things provided for me,” she said, “but independence and freedom is more important for me.”
In October, Winston will leave her group home and the 24-hour-van service Frontier Community Services provides her — but the new home will be a jail with out a new minivan too, she said.
A van cost $19,000. It needs $10,000 to $15,000 worth of modifications to accept her wheelchair, she said.
“I’m not going to be picky,” she said. “I need something that will get me from point A to point B.”
Winston’s friends are confident she will get the van. Their friend is tenacious, said Sheena Demaris. Demaris is the friend who was recovering from her C-section in Anchorage when Winston arrived, and the Soldotna resident has know Winston since high school.
“I never think of her as being paralyzed or not being able to do anything,” Demaris said. “If anything, she seems more capable than most people.”
Like the time Winston finally returned from Seattle, Demaris said, Winston had only a hospital-issued blowup mattress to sleep on at her mother’s. It was unstable and too small. Winston twins wouldn’t fit on it with her.
So they searched, and Demaris found a queen-sized Tempur-Pedic bed in Anchorage. It cost $5,000, but, after the salesperson heard who needed it, she dropped it to $2,000.
Two days later, Demaris said, they raised the cash.
“Failing is not an option (for Maggie). Not finding an amazing life is not an option,” Demaris said. “The woman just painted a book with her mouth better than most of us could paint with our hands.” Winston’s book, “Slugs Forever: Tales of an Alaskan Backyard,” took Winston about 60 hours to illustrate.
Winston’s trick, Demaris said: “If you give love, you’ll get it back.”
And, Morgan Case said, Winston gives it out in fistfuls.
“She is still the same loving, outgoing, wild, awesome person,” Soldotna resident Case said.
Case will often go to her friend when she is upset, and Demaris brings Winston her children to babysit.
Winston has her bad days like anybody else, but they don’t overcome her. “She’s Maggie. She’s the person I knew in high school. She’s my best friend,” Case said.
The customized van and her new home would be the last leg in Winston’s drive for independence, Demaris said. Winston said she wants to be able to choose the color of the wall paper where she lives; she wants to stay out with her friends until 5 a.m.; she wants to live like any other adult mother.
“The fastest track to big-girl town is a house and car,” she said.
There are things she cannot do, like spinning a bowling ball down an ally by hand or hiking mountainous trails on foot, she said.
“But there’s another way to do everything,” she said. She can knock the bowling ball down a track, and she can find the trails that accommodate her wheelchair. She focuses on the things she can accomplish — like owning a house and a van — and she doesn’t dwell on those she can’t, she said.
Already Winston and her friends have raised about $3,000. On May 13, they will host another fundraiser event, “Spa Spa Sparkle,” at the Taylor’d Image salon in Kenai. A $60 fee covers most of the spa’s services. Also, her friend, Brandi Kerley, posted a fundrazr.com site — “Maggie’s Wheels!!” — that has raised $1,650.
Three weeks ago plumbers fit piping in her Kenai Inlet Woods Subdivision home, roofers nailed in the shingles last week and Winston is thrilled.
Purple lupines grow along her house’s last stretch of road and a small pond across the pavement shivers in the wind. Last year her boys caught 15 frogs in that pond, she said.
“It’s the most beautiful neighborhood ever.”
Donations can be made to Maggie Winston’s fundrazr.com account, “Maggie’s Wheels!!”
Winston and her friends will hold a fundraiser event Saturday at the Taylor’d Image salon in Kenai.
For more information, call Brandi Kerley at 907-252-9264.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.