Eyes Wide Open

A Perspective From Within


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Keeping Up With Mary Vaccaro

I’ve decided to post some random pictures and a few videos that were taken over the last few months. For those of you that follow me on Instagram, this may be a bit redundant. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. I have several entries written but always seem to change my mind prior to posting them because my mood changes. Go figure. I’ll post something new soon.

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Well overdue new hair from Oribe Salon. It’s been a year since color and scissors have touched my head.

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Happy hour at the Setai lounge. My friend Lisa Lambert was in town.

Beach wheelchair. Monster tires.

Beach wheelchair. Monster tires.

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My visit with Brian and Maria.

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Paparazzi at the beach stalking some Argentinian super model who is staying here. Lisa and I thought they were here for us…we’re famous in our own way.

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My visit with Harald and Marlene.

At the Miami Project getting hooked up to electrodes. I was there for a study. I was basically a lab rat.

At the Miami Project getting hooked up to electrodes. I was a lab rat for a study on hand movement in people with SCI.

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2 on 1 at Oribe

At the beach with Harald, my crazy Austrian friend.

At the beach with Harald, my crazy Austrian friend.

Barb's visit. Really nice to see her.

Barb’s visit. Really nice to see her. I put a little artsy filter on this pic.

Stage 1 of the hair.

Stage 1 of the hair.

Wonderful surprise from old friend Jenni Pekar. The card was filled with words of inspiration from her coworkers at the Bliss spa.

Wonderful surprise from old friend Jenni Pekar. The card was filled with words of inspiration from her coworkers at the Bliss spa.

The vans that take me to therapy are made in Akron. WTF...very  bizarre.

The vans that take me to therapy are made in Akron. There are hundreds of them around Miami. WTF…very bizarre.

My boys from work came to see me. So great to catch up. Lots of laughs as usual.

My boys from work (Sandridge) came to see me. So great to catch up. Lots of laughs as usual.

Geno and I. My brother from a different mother.

Me and Geno… my brother from a different mother.

Me, Ross and Andrea at Smith and Wollensky.

Me, Ross and Andrea at Smith and Wollensky.

Below are a few videos for your viewing pleasure. The first three show me using the ReWalk. It’s an exoskeleton that brings me to a standing position and initializes steps. It’s really meant for paraplegics that have trunk control and way more function than me. I actually worked many hours on exercises to increase my stamina and strength in the few trunk muscles that I’ve regained. This may look easy to you, but in fact it kicks my ass. Making 2 laps through the gym wipes me out. There’s a home version of this unit that’s sold in Europe. Paraplegics can put on the “suit” and go to work, take walks etc. Currently, in the US, the FDA has only approved this for clinical use. Apparently the home version is awaiting approval here.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=c4-feed-u&v=ZwMvRBsU2OA

The last video is me at Hyde bar at the SLS hotel in South Beach. Ross surprised me one Saturday and rented a cabana poolside for the day. Our friends Bill and Lyndsey came from Fort Lauderdale to hang with us. SLS has a pool party every Saturday and Sunday. The weather was ideal and the average age was 22. It was a lot of fun people watching. Ross definitely spoils me!


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“Fitness, if it came in a bottle, everybody would have a great body.” – Cher

It’s been a while since I have posted a blog update. I really need to be more disciplined with my writing because I actually have a lot to say.

I frequently get asked about what I do at therapy, so I thought a play by play should be in order.

First of all, I have to say, I love therapy. Prior to this accident, I was in the gym religiously 3-4 times per week, but I can honestly admit, I never truly loved working out. I’m quite sure there are more people than not who share this same sentiment. I think most people are lying when they say they do. These are the people who have all of the latest workout gear, but you’ll find them standing on the treadmill talking about how much they go to the gym. They move their mouths more than they move their bodies. I never understood how people became addicted to working out. After 15+ years in the gym, I’m still waiting on that runners high everyone talks about. Truthfully, my only driving force that kept my weekly schedule was the fear of getting fat, because I love to eat and I love couture. Lanvin has not launched a plus size line yet, and I don’t like to throw up, so going to the gym was the next best option. I know my trainers at the Yellow Creek gym are reading this, so I guess the cat’s out of the bag. Lynn and Cody, both of you made my workouts fun and tolerable!

This is why I find it oddly surprising that I love therapy. What I do at therapy is 20 times harder than the most intense workout that I’ve done in the past, but I still like it. Maybe it’s the challenge that drives me, but truthfully, at the end of the day, my priorities are a little different now. I still have a fear of getting fat, and I’m still obsessed with runway fashion, but the fear of never walking again and being faced with being dependent for the rest of my life scares the shit out of me (and couture clothing never looks good while seated either).

I have been attending Miami Physical Therapy (in Coconut Grove) since September of last year. I feel comfortable and at home there, which I think is a particularly valuable factor in any recovery. The entire staff is not only positive, supportive and knows their shit, the Cuban coffee that they make there is delicious. I’m addicted to it and usually start bothering Omar, the Cuban coffee making PT attendant, to make some as soon as I get there.i think he gets a little annoyed with me because I really do nag him until he makes it. All of the attendants are PT students. I really enjoy having them around to shoot the shirt with.

If I had the stamina I would go to therapy Monday through Friday, but my body definitely needs some recovery time. As it is, I’m there 3x per week, and have increased my sessions from 3 hours to 4 hours per day, which is extremely aggressive. I’ll get home around 6pm and will literally pass out. What I was able to do prior to September 2012 and what I can do now is undeniably night and day. Back then, I thought I was a bad ass at Jackson rehab when I was on NBC Miami news for the most pull-ups completed during the Jackson Memorial Olympics. That seems so long ago.

Today, Carla, my therapist, has presented me with new challenges that I hope gets me just a little bit closer to regaining what I have lost. I have wrote in the past about the stim bike and the standing frame, which are still an integral part of my therapy repertoire. In addition to those, I am doing something new and exciting. See the video below. I started doing this a few weeks ago, and the video is already obsolete. I can actually get up on all 4s with little or no assistance. This is quite an accomplishment since most of my core is still paralyzed.

The main reason I was able to progress to an advanced activity like this is because I regained a small amount of my core back. This includes obliques, flickers of the upper part of my rectus abdominis and a muscle in my back called the erector spinae. What is important to note about these muscles is that they correspond to the spinal nerves that are below my level of injury. My injury was at the cervical region (C6/C7) and these new flickers of muscle movement correspond to the thoracic region of my spine, meaning that there is some communication occurring down my spinal cord. Below is a good chart that shows the spinal nerves and corresponding muscles.

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This is exciting but still not enough for me. I want tangible movement that I can see, which is why I go at so hard at therapy. I have no choice…

Me quadruped holding myself up

Me quadruped holding myself up

Sit to stand-holding myself up

Sit to stand-holding myself up

Sit to stand

Sit to stand

Sit to stand-holding myself up. Perfect posture.

Sit to stand-holding myself up. Perfect posture.

Does This Wheelchair Make Me Look Fat?

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Ross Marchetta and Mary Vaccaro

Ross and I on the red carpet

Lately I’m finding it a bit difficult to write about new things in my life when everything has been pretty much the same for a while now…terribly uneventful. Go to therapy, come home, repeat. I do however, want to talk about my first official outing in November where I actually had real clothes on that did not have an elastic waist or an Adidas logo. I also had my hair and makeup done by a professional. It was the first time in months that I felt semi-normal. The event was called “Destination Fashion”. It was an event for The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, which is the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. The Miami Project is the main reason why I am down here. Just to give you a little background, In 1985, Barth Green M.D. (my doctor) and NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti helped found The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis after Nick’s son, Marc, sustained a spinal cord injury during a college football game. Today, The Miami Project is the world’s most comprehensive spinal cord injury research center with 250 scientists, researchers and clinicians who take innovative approaches to the challenge of spinal cord injury. Because of their work and the dedication, in July of 2012, the FDA approved human clinical trials that involves the testing of Schwann cell transplants in humans with acute and chronic SCI. This is very exciting news. Hopefully I can be a part of this in the near future. I don’t want to bore you with details. You can learn more about it if you click on this link: http://www.themiamiproject.org/page.aspx?pid=339

Me after my makeover with Sydney

Me after my makeover with Sydney

Anyway, back to Destination Fashion. More than 2000 guests attended the event that was held at Miami’s Bal Harbour Shops. The night featured an exclusive presentation of Emilio Pucci’s Spring 2013 line designed by Peter Dundas. The collection came straight from Milan fashion week and had never touched American soil. Following the fashion show and sit-down dinner, there was an interactive destination party experience and private concert by Enrique Iglesias. The concert was amazing. Tom Brokaw hosted the evening, and was chaired by actor Tommy Lee Jones and the extremely hot international polo sensation and face of Ralph Lauren’s Black Label, Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras. There were a bunch of other celebs there to, but really, Nacho is all I cared about. Total eye candy. I have been to many charity events in my life, but nothing like this.The execution was flawless, the tablescapes were stunning and the food was really good. The filet that was served wasn’t the typical overcooked prison grade meat served at many of the events that I have attended in the past. There was also a beautiful antipasto which had the dual purpose of the first course and also as part of the centerpiece. The runway for the Pucci fashion show was set up like a maze all throughout the dining area. We were practically sitting on the runway and could almost touch the pale and anorexic models, that’s how close we were. Many of the stores in the Bal Harbour Shops generously donated luxury items for the silent auction. There were no Akron Aeros tickets or hot air balloon rides at this auction. Items like a Cartier watch, a one of a kind Fendi bag and a trip to Tuscany were up for auction to the highest bidder. The event raised a staggering $31 million for The Miami Project, partly as the result of an especially benevolent and kind donor who made a huge announcement that night. Christine E. Lynn announced a gift of $25 million that would go to build a state-of-the-art spinal cord injury surgical suites, surgical intensive care units and rehabilitation center. The announcement was truly a shock to the crowd. This same women donated $10 million to The Miami Project last year. My God, how much money does this women have? I googled her the next day and her name is prominently displayed on several buildings and wings. You have to have some major dough to have a building named after you. This women has it.

The shoes

The shoes

This event was really the first time that I had been outside the 1000 feet radius of the Continuum property since I got out of the hospital. I had finally taken myself out of the mental house arrest that I had created for myself and became part of the living…at least for one night. As soon as Ross told me about the event and that he wanted to support it, the pressure was on to find something to wear that would not make me look like a cow on wheels. I quickly discovered that clothes are not designed for the seated. I had a few things sent from home and after trying them on, found that they that looked absolutely hideous on me while seated in the chair. I had such a great wardrobe at home…kiss that goodbye. This was definitely going to be a challenge for me. After several trial and errors, I found the perfect dress. I had my killer YSL platforms sent from home to finish the outfit. I bought these shoes two months prior to the accident and only wore them once. I was always afraid of scuffing them or scratching the gold on the front of the shoe. I find it completely ironic that now I no longer have to worry about ruining a great pair of shoes because they will always stay looking brand new.

Peter and I | Us with Emilio Estefan | Me, Ross and Dr. Green

There was a tremendous amount of preplanning for me to do in order to execute a perfect look for the event. Being a quad in a chair poses many difficulties with fashion and many other things that I won’t go into right now. I had the whole cathe thing to deal with that night. Since I had to get cathed at 8 pm I had to take one of my caretakers with me. Most people slip off to the restroom, I had to roll off to the limo. I got a professional makeup artist that does runway, print and celebs. He also styles hair. I desperately needed someone to help me look good cuz I was a mess. The man for this big job was named Sidney Jamila…I call him simply, my savior. He is also absolutely adorable, so incredibly kind and extremely talented. During our pre-meeting to discuss the look that I was going for, I had to open up the conversation to exactly what celebrities he’s worked with. Inquiring minds wanted to know. When the name “Lenny Kravitz” came up, I froze. Could someone who has touched the face and hair of Lenny be touching mine? This really is six degrees of separation. My friend Lisa and I worshipped that man years ago. I still have a Lenny playlist on my iPod. I love his music. Back then, it was so upsetting when he started to date and then go on to marry Lisa Bonet. Bitch (just kidding). Of course I started gushing to Sydney about Lenny like some of my friends’ young children talk about Justin Bieber. Lenny was my Justin, just way cooler with a much better voice, more talented and who doesn’t wear meggings (male leggings). Justin Bieber always has those stupid “I Dream of Jeanie” pants on. It’s completely ridiculousness and they should be burned, every single pair of them because I’m quite certain he has multiple pairs. Selena Gomez should be embarrassed. Ok, I digress. I’m not 12. Back to this 44 year old’s story. Sydney arrived with an assistant on the day of the event and brought enough makeup for this beauty junkie to be high. We totally hit it off, talking about our favorite beauty brands, new makeup techniques, Sephora etc. He wanted to set up shop in the living room because of the lighting situation, so I didn’t have the luxury of having a full mirror in front of me to soak up the techniques of the master. It absolutely drove me crazy not to be able to see what he was doing. Then, somewhere between the primer and concealer, he told me that just the day before he styled Lenny for some sort of Oprah life course BS show…and that Sydney mentioned me to him. I almost fell out of my wheelchair. The name Mary Vaccaro graced the eardrums of Lenny Kravitz. OMG…

The evening was a blast. Lots of great memories. I had such a great time time with Ross and our friends that came to Miami just for this. It was, however, incredibly strange and uncomfortable to be in a massive crowd when you are the only person sitting down. Going through the crowds of people felt at first like salmon upstream, but quickly turned into Moses parting the Red Sea. People tend to go out of there way to make room for a person in a wheelchair. When they don’t realize that you are trying to get through and someone has to tap them on the shoulder to tell them to move they become so apologetic that it is borderline uncomfortable. That sort of situation reminded me of the hilarious episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David starts dating woman in wheelchairs mostly out of guilt, but realizes he gets to take advantage of some of the perks (if that’s what you want to call them). It’s from Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7, Ep. 5 called “Denise Handicap”. I know most people would find this offensive. I thought it was completely hilarious. It’s worth a watch. Poking fun at this horrible situation that I’m in is one of the key coping mechanisms that I have. Isn’t laughter supposed to be the best medicine?