'I hated my life': Edmonton woman helps wheelchair users overcome trauma

Bean Gill grips the handles of her walker, her muscular frame tense as she lifts her legs to take a few laborious steps she never thought would be possible. 

During summer vacation of 2012, while relaxing in a Las Vegas hotel room with close friends, she felt a sudden, stabbing pain in her spine.

She went numb from the waist down.

"It was on Friday the 13th actually when I woke up," Gill said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "I was just laying in bed with my friends when I had the most excruciating pain that I've ever felt.

"The pain lasted only a few minutes, and then I couldn't move my right leg. I was paralyzed within 10 minutes." 

Four years later, Gill now wants to help others find a new path to recovery from spinal cord injuries. Soon she'll open ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre in Edmonton, a gym and treatment centre that will offer intensive workouts designed specifically for people in wheelchairs.

"I've been through it all," said Gill. "I've been through a deep dark depression, and I still battle those dark thoughts every day. But a positive attitude is what has pushed me to get to this point." 

'My life was flipped upside down'

Gill was paralyzed in 2012 by an autoimmune disorder called transverse myelitis. The inflammation caused irreparable damage to her spine and left her paralyzed from the waist down.

The exact cause remains a mystery to medical professionals.

Doctors told Gill a virus was likely to blame, and told her she would never walk again.

Gill, then 30, struggled to come to grips with her new reality. A once athletic young woman who enjoyed kickboxing and weightlifting, she  felt betrayed by her own body. She couldn't roll over, sit up, or get out of bed without help. 

"My life was flipped upside down," she said. "I was 30 years old, newly single, enjoying my life. To suddenly be fully dependent, not having any control over my body, that would be quite traumatizing for anybody.

"I hated everything about me. I hated my life."

 Gill spent months at home, watching her muscles "melt away." She knew things had to change. As a certified X-ray technician, she understood the importance of physiotherapy in her recovery.

At the Glenrose Rehab hospital she met other patients with similar challenges. That helped her begin the healing process.

"Some [patients] were worse off than me, and that's when I kind of changed my mentality. I am independent. I will walk again. I do have some mobility, and it is getting progressively better.

'It's a daily battle'

She reached out to Nancy Morrow, a neuro-exercise specialist, and they started training together every day. Now Gill is back lifting weights, throwing punches and occasionally leaving her wheelchair for a few careful steps.

Three years after they began work together, the two women are ready to bring their program to the public. They plan to begin operations at the Buchanan Centre next month. 

Along with intensive, individual workouts in the gym, they plan to provide mentorship programs for people coping with new injuries. 

Gill wants to empower others to overcome both physical and psychological trauma inflicted by spinal cord injuries.

"It's a daily battle," she said. "We're all human. We all have negative thoughts inside our heads, telling us, 'Why are you doing this? Why are you even trying?'

It's something she battles with on a daily basis. But her whole outlook has changed.

"I'm not allowed to feel sorry for myself anymore," she said. "I have to think about what I have, not what I lost."