Published 12:00 am Friday, December 21, 2012
?SALISBURY — Stacey McCullogh is a woman who has rebounded in life when tragic events may have rattled others. McCullogh, 32, was paralyzed at 14 when her ex-boyfriend tried to commit suicide and accidentally shot her in the throat.
McCullogh, who is quadriplegic, continued to live her life and has enjoyed the freedoms that come with mobility, until recently. Although McCullogh has very little use of her fingers, she was able to drive with modifications to her van. Her van was heavily damaged nearly a month ago when she struck a deer.
She has been “stuck” at home since that Nov. 30 accident on Mooresville Road.
McCullogh has liability on her van, but no comprehensive or collision insurance.
She is working with Bobby Jo Stephens of Fallen Families NC, a nonprofit, to raise money for van repairs or replacement.
McCullogh remembers bits and pieces of the day she was shot — March 25, 1995. She was a high school freshman.
She tried to pull the gun away from her ex-boyfriend, but his hand was still on the trigger, and the bullet went through her windpipe and around her vocal cords. The bullet traveled through her spine and spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the chest down.
She heard him scream, but it sounded a million miles away. McCullogh’s eyes were open, but she remembers not being able to see, and her ears were ringing.
Her ex-boyfriend’s mother was a nurse and administered aid to McCullogh before the ambulance arrived.
“I knew I wasn’t going to die,” she said.
McCullogh spent weeks in the intensive care unit. Doctors told her she’d never talk again. She is able to talk. She’s since undergone multiple surgeries and rehab.
She has more movement in her arms than most people with similar injuries, which gives her the ability to drive.
Her van has a reduction in the steering by 50 percent, making the steering wheel looser for McCullogh to operate. Her wheelchair is locked into the floor. Her steering wheel has a knob that she can grip to steer. Another mechanism allows McCullogh to use her hands to brake and accelerate. The modifications can be adjusted if someone else drives her van. Her wheelchair will lock into the passenger’s side and that seat will shift over and become the driver’s seat. The floor is also lowered to accommodate her wheelchair.
When she purchased the used van in 2000, it already had a ramp, but required $23,000 worth of conversions before McCullogh could drive. She had the van towed to her parents’ Price Road home after the accident). She isn’t able to afford the cost of a vehicle diagnostic to determine the severity of the damage. McCullogh believes it would cost at least $80,000 to replace the van with the modifications.
She was returning home from a day of shopping in Mooresville with aide Sara Samuelsson when a deer ran in front of her van.
McCullogh said she wasn’t driving very fast. In fact, she was going five miles per hour under the 55 mph speed limit.
“I went around the curve and the deer just appeared,” she said.
McCullogh pulled off into the parking lot of a nearby store. The women felt the thud, but said it felt minor.
Samuelsson believed the van may have had minor damage, but discovered much more when she got outside. The hood of the van was smashed inward.
“I got out of the van and I freaked out,” Samuelsson said.
The store owner assisted the women by calling emergency dispatchers. A man who lived nearby also rushed to the van when he saw sparks.
McCullogh said she can see how God has intervened on her behalf throughout her life, and that night was no different.
AAA towed the van and her chair home and McCullogh’s mother, Shirley, who later arrived to the accident scene, took her and Samuelsson home. Stephens began Fallen Families NC nearly three months ago and has helped area families who are having financial difficulty.
“We will do pretty much anything from talking to people, going out to collect donations,” Stephens said.
Her husband is also a mechanic and Stephens said she hopes he can help McCullogh.
Stephens and the McCulloghs are hoping to begin fundraisers after the Christmas holiday.
For more information about upcoming fundraisers for Stacey McCullogh, search Fallen Families NC on Facebook.