Jacky’s fate was a blessing in disguise.
On the 8th of May 2012, Jacqueline Raab experiences the incomprehensible: During a groundwork judo training, a training colleague fell onto her neck from behind and deprives Jacky of all body sensations at once. "In my head, the stroke felt like an explosion, as if my head had broken off ", Jacky remembers. The diagnosis at that time: paraplegia. Six years later, Jacky is back on her own feet - at work and even on the judo mat. On the 6th of May, the 30-year-old will run for the first time for those who can’t at the Wings for Life World Run.
Jacky, you're one of the few people who have recovered from paraplegia - in a nutshell: what memories do you have of your accident? I remember how my whole body started to burn violently - like a thousand knives. I could neither move nor feel myself. That's what I told the first aiders over and over again. So often that I hyperventilated and almost fainted. That's also why my coach tapped my cheek and said: "Stay here, stay here!" In the ambulance, I realized for the first time that I could have paraplegia. There my arm fell off the stretcher and I could not pick it up myself.
"After the computer tomography in the hospital, the doctor told me that I was a paraplegic." - Jacky Raab
Jacky’s cervical spine after the accident – before and after surgery.
Some favorable factors have meant that you have almost completely recovered from your accident - what were they? There were a lot of things. Especially the rescue chain that worked smoothly: The accident happened around 8pm. At 8:45 pm I was already under anaesthetic in the operating room. In addition, the local coaches responded correctly, the rescue was on-site within minutes, and my neck was directly stabilized to prevent further spinal cord injury. In addition, the spine specialist Dr Heinz Brenner was on duty at the nearby Lorenz Böhler Casualty Hospital that evening. He performed the emergency surgery, which took four hours. My good physical condition, due to me being a professional athlete and also my very young age, at the time of the accident have certainly also contributed to a better healing process.
What diagnosis was made at the clinic? I had a luxation of the 4th and 5th cervical vertebra of around a vortex width. My entire head was moved forward. The 4th cervical vertebra was broken and the intervertebral disc between C4 and C5 were smashed. Instead of my spinal disc a bone block from my hip was inserted between my 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae. Dr Brenner later told me that my injury was worse than that of Samuel Koch, who, as we unfortunately know, was not as lucky as me.
"Even I can not imagine what being paraplegic means!" - Jacky Raab
Jacky with her partner Marcel Ott shortly after surgery.
When was the moment the doctors first gave you hope for a cure? The first positive sign came shortly after waking up. That's the first time I tried to move parts of my body and in fact I could move my right big toe! Because my respiratory muscles did not work yet, I could not speak. Instead, I made some noise to made the nurse aware of this little glimmer of hope. When she saw it, she had tears in her eyes and immediately got a doctor.
How did it continue afterwards? I was able to move more and more body parts, whilst still in the intensive care unit - sometimes I could lift a knee, sometimes the left hand. Initially, the doctors had dampened my euphoria. On May 11, three days after my accident, they helped me to stand on my own feet for the first time! I did my first tentative steps after a good week. Three weeks after the operation I was transferred to the Rehab Centre Weißer Hof, where I spent two and a half months before I was allowed to return home for the first time.
"I often wonder how it can be that many other people with spinal cord injury are denied my luck? Therefore, I often do not dare to be too happy about my fate. " - Jacky Raab
Jacky during one of her running workouts.
Which emotions emerge today when you think back to this time? It is a mixed emotional state. I only got a glimpse of what paraplegia means for a short time. Nevertheless, that time has burdened me mentally more than physically. Therefore, I can hardly imagine how it must be for people who are not as lucky as me. At the spine ward at the Weißer Hof, I met many rehab patients, who were robbed of their old lives without a single chance of returning to what they had.
To what extent have these experiences encouraged you to support the spinal cord research? To 100 per cent. I first dealt with the issue of paraplegia through my accident. Through the course of it, I also heard about the Wings for Life Foundation for the first time. I then contacted Wings for Life via the Volksbank to launch our first donation project in 2012, which fortunately has been very well received. Since 2017, our second donation initiative for Wings for Life has been up and running. My intention to actively support the spinal cord research has strengthened especially during my rehab time. Since then, I see it as part of my job to ensure that my case does not remain a one-off incident.
Since 2012, you have worked closely with Volksbank Wien in addition to Wings for Life. How did this collaboration come about? Spinal cord injuries are always associated with enormous costs. Some of my therapy costs have covered by Volksbank. In addition, just before my accident happened, I had a photo shoot with my friend for Volksbanken magazine. Back then my friend was a successful judo fighter sponsored by Volksbank. Since then, from the first meeting a very close bond has developed.
"I know today that it can be over quickly. That was a valuable life lesson, which I've been more aware of ever since." - Jacky Raab
Jacky way before her accident during a judo competition.
To what extent has your story, attitude to life and paraplegia changed? I used to be extremely driven. I'm still pretty perfectionist, but not as much as before my accident. I always wanted to be prepared for anything and not be surprised by anything. The injury has shown me that you can’t plan your life completely. In this regard, this extreme experience has taught me to be a bit more laid-back and be more humble.
Which discomforts are you still experiencing today? I still struggle with discomfort and paraesthesia of my hands, also with my fine coordination. I keep dropping things that I am holding in my hand, or occasionally I miss objects when wanting to grab things or missing the other person’s hand when shaking hands. These are a few things I'm still struggling with. But these are rather minor issues that hardly impact my everyday life. In addition, due to the stiffening between the 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae, I have become somewhat less mobile overall. But thanks to my weekly physiotherapy, I have improved here too.
"It gives me tremendous strength to give back some of the luck I've had by participating in the Wings for Life World Run." - Jacky Raab
Jacky ist back – as coach and judoka.
Will you attend the Wings for Life World Run in 2018? I will be in Vienna and for the first time running myself. I've set myself 15 kilometres as a goal for 2018! Endurance elements are part of my training plan anyway, which makes it easier for me to prepare for the race (laughs). The most important thing for me is that for the first time - I will be able to run myself this year. Last year, I distributed drinks at the 30km mark together with my judo club, the Volksbank Galaxy Tigers. This year, I am part of the Team TrueSpirit together with my friend Marcel Ott, which everyone can join!