25 Faces: Nancy McFadden
Perhaps one of the most inspirational women I know is my Zumba instructor, Nancy McFadden. She is not only an incredible instructor, but also has her own amazing story of tragedy to triumph.
When you first meet Nancy, you’re struck by her beautiful smile, intense energy, and empowering personality. She has the uncanny ability to remember everyone’s name and encourage you in everything you do. But what’s even more remarkable about Nancy is that not too long ago, she suffered life-threatening injuries in a horseback riding accident that could have left her unable to walk, let alone dance. Nancy decided early on that when the doctors told her she’d never be the same, that she’d become better. She’s since beaten the odds and done just that. Now healthy and in the best shape of her life, Nancy teaches Zumba multiple times a week and has inspired countless people to fight for what has been deemed impossible to achieve.
Kate: Can you tell us about your accident?
Nancy: That beautiful summer day in August 2008 started like any other horse-lovers holiday weekend with family and friends enjoying each other over food, laughter, and plenty of horseback riding. My young horse Ace fell in love with my friend’s mare Roxy and had taken to protecting her with herd-bound behavior. He was more interested in listening to her rather than to me, so I decided to take him to a neighboring tree farm to conquer his new-found orneriness.
I worked with him for 45 minutes between the rows of trees when he had finally had enough and reared in protest. I’ve been on rearing horses over the years, but this was completely different. In an instant, he threw his nose-skyward. We were immediately beyond the point of no return, and I was helpless as the momentum brought his body up and over. My first thought was, BAIL, and get your feet out of these stirrups or you’ll be drug to death! Desperately I tried to push away from him praying, “Jesus, please spare my life!”
I couldn’t push far enough.
His massive 15-hand, 900 lb body slammed on top of me.
An explosive warm gush and a dark, cold, crushing pain wracked my midsection. I heard my bones crush with a resounding visceral earthquake. Ace thrashed violently to right himself, so I curled into a fetal position to protect myself from his flailing. When he finally managed to right himself, I knew he would run next door. Immediately I knew that if he couldn’t get through the gate to Roxy, he may run back to me and trample me! Unable to use my lower body, I dragged myself off the path in a combat-style crawl. My need to preserve my life was more powerful than the enormous amount of pain racking my body. I now understand how someone can cut off a body part that is keeping them ensnared in a life threatening situation.
Remembering I had my cell phone in my back pocket, I pulled it out and was amazed it still worked. Remaining calm, I dialed 911 and said, ”I have just had a horse rear over and land on top of me. I have serious injuries including a broken pelvis and extensive internal bleeding that I think may kill me. Please send medics immediately.”
By this time, my friend Anna saw Ace without me and realized something was wrong. She raced to my side. As soon as she reached me I handed the phone to her to finish the call. My thoughts instantly turned to my family. My kids might be raised without a mom. I thought of the pain and heartache they may have to suffer and felt terrible.
When Anna finished the call, I said, “You need to call my family because I don’t think I’m going to survive with the amount of internal bleeding I have.”
“Where are you bleeding?” She asked.
“Can’t you see the massive pool of blood I’m lying in?” I asked as I lay flat on my back looking into the sky. I couldn’t see my lower body because I knew I needed to keep my head and neck as still as possible.
“Oh honey, you’re not bleeding, you just wet yourself!” She exclaimed.
I was so excited! I could hardly believe it. This was the first moment I thought I might actually survive.
After medics finally arrived, I was transferred to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington. X-rays and scans revealed that the left side of my sacrum was crushed, including the hollow tubes that house my nerves. The entire left side of my pelvis broke completely off the sacrum (lower spine) and moved up into my ribcage rotating sideways. With my pelvis having a total of five fractures, I felt as if I would never climb out of the deep, cold, black pit of pain.
The E.R. physician knew my injuries were too extensive for him to treat, so he transferred me to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. After screwing a pin through my left femur bone just above my knee, they hooked my leg up to 10 lbs of traction to try and bring my pelvis back down into proper position. Because I was conscious and stable, I had to wait for my surgery, as they were busy saving the lives of people that were unstable during the next 3 days. By then, I’d received two blood transfusions and an additional 5-10 lbs of traction on my femur. The night before my surgery, a hot, searing pain ripped through my left gluteus muscle due to the added weight. The pain was incredible, but I would later be thankful for it.
My surgeons warned me if it was too difficult for them to get my pelvis aligned, the surgery could be very invasive. I may wake up with an external bar fused to my pelvis running across my abdomen for support and stability for eight weeks. They wouldn’t know for sure until they were in the midst of performing my surgery. I was pleasantly surprised when I woke from surgery without this external bar. It’s possible that my torn gluteus muscle weakened my body’s ability to fight their efforts so I was thankful for the searing pain the night before.
To align my pelvis, the surgeons used a machine with two poles that drilled directly into both my pelvic bones. Moving the polls with joysticks, they aligned my bones, and then inserted four titanium bolts that fused my pelvis into one solid fixed pelvic ring. They are now a permanent part of my anatomy; kind of like the bionic woman.
After seven days in Harborview, I went home to recover in a hospital bed, and after twelve weeks graduated to intense and extensive physical therapy.
K: What was it like to be faced with a debilitating injury?
N: It’s scary. I realized my whole life had changed in an instant. I didn’t know how much progress I could achieve or what the future held. I had more questions running through my head than answers, that’s for sure.
K: How did you stay strong and positive in the midst of it? Were there any times you just felt like giving up?
N: I knew that my life had been spared by God, so even though it was scary, I knew that He would help me throughout my journey. There were times I was afraid, but I never felt like giving up. I was raised with love and encouragement that I could achieve anything I put my heart, soul and mind to, so I just “believed” that if I put in 100% of my effort at every moment, I would end up where I was “supposed to be,” and I was content with that.
K: How has your life changed since your accident?
N: It has been the greatest blessing of my life. Yes it was hard, yes it hurt in ways that I cannot even describe and just thinking about it can often bring me to tears, yes it was scary and awful and miserable, but it was the greatest blessing due to what came next. I have been so grateful to be alive that I rarely have “bad” days. I just don’t think that way anymore. My life has a better perspective. Everything I experience can be compared to the other option of not being alive to experience it, and that keeps me super content with even my hardest days. Life is a blessing and it is to be lived in full. I have even taken on my greatest fears, like spiders and heights, and conquered them. I have held a tarantula and gone skydiving 202 times. It was much to my surprise that I was “born” to skydive. I live full. I live free.
K: What would you say to those faced with a debilitating injury?
N: Do not take your current circumstance as your future circumstance. Give 100% of yourself to health and wellness and never give up fighting for recovery. Doctors don’t know everything! Miracles happen, and they can happen for you. If not in your body, then in your mind, where the real beauty takes place. Pray, and ask God to be your strength. To reveal Himself to you in ways you had not known before. Let your mind be transformed and choose an attitude of gratitude for what you DO have. This will send you in the right direction where you can learn to live life to the fullest. When you’re feeling down, give to others and see the joy it brings to you. Getting out of your “own” circumstances and focusing on others brings about amazing transformations and fuels a passion for people that can change everything.
K: You’ve already inspired so many individuals with your story, what’s next for you?
N: For the past few years I have been having a blast teaching my Zumba Fitness® classes, sharing my passion for health and wellness with others, and I have recently found an equally exciting opportunity that goes hand in hand with what I already love. I am working with MYNT, which will soon become a household name, and we are launching a line of all-natural health and wellness products created by a world renowned nutritionist. The best part is that they are huge into humanitarian projects, which is right up my alley. As the leader of MYNT Team Washington, I am organizing projects in my local community to help people in need, and that feels good. It’s good to give back, and be a part of something big! I find that I am most inspired when I am inspiring others, and between Zumba Fitness® and MYNT, I am completely fulfilled and passionate to the core about what I am doing, who I get to do it with, and who I get to do it for. I cannot wait to see what the future holds. One thing I know for sure, it is certainly bright.