Doctors call her The Miracle Lady.
Shirley Jackson wasn’t expected to live, let alone function, after a car crash near Kingston left her in a coma.
Her family was told the best-case scenario — if she ever came out of the coma, that is — was that she’d be blind, deaf, a vegetable essentially, as the brain damage was so extensive.
Today the Forest Hill resident walks (with the aid of a cane or walker), paints, goes to exercise class, plays the piano, types, volunteers, swims, and does mall walking, museum excursions, and ceramics.
“I surprised all of them,” Jackson says of her coming out of her coma three months after the crash. “Eight months later, I walked down the hall.”
Having marked the 10th anniversary of the accident this summer, Jackson says she prefers not to think of the early days of her rehab, when life was hard.
With the right side of her body paralyzed, including her writing hand, she’s had to retrain herself to do everything — with her left hand.
“I just did it automatically,” she says of her recovery.
She counts perseverance and stubbornness as the two main reasons she turned her situation around so dramatically. She scrawled the words on a piece of paper in preparation for being interviewed.
Love of family, intelligence, rehab and the good Lord who knew she wanted to stay with friends and family are the other explanations she has written down.
A former elementary school teacher, Jackson is, not surprisingly, quite literary and education-minded. In the first year or so of her rehab, she wrote an ABC in Poetry book that her grandchildren illustrated. It was therapeutic, she says.
She’s also volunteers weekly at the Miles Nadal Community Centre reading to and playing the piano for nursery school children.
Nor is it surprising that the youngsters she reaches out to are affected by her. In her apartment in the Forest Hill Place Retirement Residence, a handmade card pinned to a bulletin board reads, “We love you Miss Shirley.”
Another of Jackson’s prized possessions is an essay her grandson wrote years ago for a school assignment, which won a prize for the whole school board.
It’s titled “The Toughest Person I Know,” and it recounts all the hardships Jackson has lived through that have made her a survivor.
It begins, “You may think the toughest person I know is a wrestler, an athlete, or someone like that. Wrong.”
The essay sits on Jackson’s bookshelf overlooking her sitting room. It’s framed in a red frame. Tape behind the picture shows how long she’s had it for.
Nearby in her closet, there are dozens of Jackson’s paintings stacked up in closet. She paints every week at a Toronto studio called Karma Creative.
When she’s not going to doctor’s appointments and engaging in her steady list of activities — which are all written down in her daily agenda — she’s seeing her three children and grandchildren, all of whom are in Toronto.
“I’m very happy,” Jackson says. “I love the place here.”
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