If you mention the name Erica Hoffman-Carter, the image that comes to mind for most people is a young lady with a very bubbly and vivacious personality who loves to live life to the fullest.
“I grew up in Sioux City, got married in my 20’s, and then moved to Washington State with my husband,” said Erica. That was 13 years ago. At the time, she was working as a civilian in the Air Force, giving mountain tours to people in Washington. It was at that time that she started skiing and snowboarding. “I was skiing on one of my days off and had a terrible fall. The doctors told me that was probably when I broke my neck, or at least fractured it,” explained Erica, although she was still completely mobile and able to walk.
She moved back to Sioux City a year or so later and then fell in her kitchen at home. The fall shattered her neck and left her partially paralyzed. “They had to put me in a medically induced coma in the hospital,” stated Erica. This was necessary to allow her neck to be worked on and to start to heal. Once she came out of the coma, then it was off to a rehab hospital in Colorado.
“I was never treated like there would be things I couldn’t do anymore. The mindset they worked from was you’re going to be able to do most everything that you did before; it’s just that you’re going to have to learn how to do them differently,” explained Erica. During the transitional period from being in the hospital in Sioux City and eventually being transported to the Rehab Hospital in Colorado, Erica clung to the mantra she had always lived by, Things Happen In My Life for a Reason. If this was going to be her new life, she needed a new plan.
While she worked on physically rehabbing her body in Colorado, she was also mentally, strategically planning how to live her life now. Once rehab was completed, she enrolled in college, completed her bachelor’s degree in accounting, and then went on and completed her Master’s in Strategic Management, Human Resources, and Non-Profit Management.
“The first two years with rehab were rough. I had to relearn how to do everything, from writing to eating, bathing, and getting dressed. The difficulty never stops; it’s just learning how to adapt. It never becomes easy. There are days when it just really sucks being stuck in a wheelchair. But there’s nothing I can do about it. So, I choose to focus on the positive,” said Erica.
She admits she feels that her roughest days are less now than they used to be, but the one obstacle, her menace, is the loss of time. “The time that I lose having to do simple things is the hardest adjustment I deal with daily. It used to take me 15 minutes to take a shower, now it takes an hour,” stated Erica. Getting into bed, taking a shower, and getting out of bed now also require the assistance of a nurse. Gratefully, she has had the same nurse for the past ten years that assists with her nightly routine. She also has a different nurse who helps her with her morning preparations. “My day starts at 6 a.m. A nurse comes to the house (she lives with her sister and her family). It takes me an hour and 45 minutes to get ready for the day and then an hour at night to get ready for bed,” said Erica. Her sister also has a nursing background, so if one of the nurses cannot come to the house, her sister can help as a backup. However, there are still challenges she faces daily once she leaves home.
For the past 3.5 years, she’s been the Finance Manager for the Umonhon Nation Public School in Macy, Nebraska. “I love my job! My job and what I get to do for a living is great for the kids and a way for me to still go on adventures. The school is the heart of the community in Macy. I approached Blue Cross Blue Shield for a donation to buy skateboards and helmets for the students so they could actually use the pump park,” said Erica. Blue Cross donated $5,000 to the school, allowing Erica to purchase the equipment.
At this stage of her life, she is taking on other adventures. “A-1 Scuba is a group from Colorado. I had to get certified to scuba dive first, and it’s an adaptive scuba dive. Each person goes diving with two buddies. Last year we went to Bonaire to dive; this year, we’re diving off the coast of Honduras. You go for a week and dive twice a day. We’ll do some diving around the coral reefs, some dives looking at sunken ships. It’s great! For a week, I am with 40 other people and treated completely as an equal,” said Erica.
Her nieces and nephews did not know Erica before she was in a wheelchair. She is the same as any other person in their minds, she has no limitations. She just does them from her wheelchair. In their minds, there is nothing she can’t do. “I’m very fortunate in that I have a great support system. I’ve lived with my sister, her husband, and their two daughters since the accident. Being an Aunt is my favorite role in life. My nieces and nephew are my little buddies. They’ve never treated me any differently than anyone else. We go for drives, go fishing, get ice cream, and spoil our dinner appetites,” she stated proudly.
Erica has learned that she has had to look at the world from a different perspective now and believes that is the key.
“I have to be a voice for that. Disabled people aren’t going to avoid going to stores simply because they can’t get into them, but change has to happen. Zoning requirements have improved over the years, and costs have come down to make the changes, so that’s helped a lot. Change can happen; it just takes multiple people willing to listen and work together to make that change happen.”
By Amy Buster