A guest post by Christine Kerr
Many people talk about the bond that exists between twins.
It is often said that they understand each other and communicate in a way that is described as different, somehow deeper than the bonds of regular siblings, and friendships. I can’t claim to know for sure, but I am sure that being a twin is making a difference in the rebuilding of the lives of our latest Inspired storytellers.
Ashley and Nicole Llorens were in a severe car accident in 2019. They were backseat passengers in a car, that struck a median strip and they were thrown from the vehicle. They were twenty-four years old, with university degrees behind them, embarking on bright futures that lay ahead.
What makes this Inspired story unique is that Ashley and Nikki are twins, who not only were involved in the same car accident, but both survived, with permanent spinal injuries as a legacy. For them, adjusting to life as a Quadriplegic and Paraplegic means many new and unknown challenges, and with the support of each other they are re-imagining and creating new futures.
Ashley and Nikki are very new to the world of disability, and as someone who has been living this life for a long time, I am incredibly moved by their strength, resilience and their willingness to embrace all that it brings and share that truth with others.
Tell us about yourselves
Nikki: We’re twin sisters, Ashley and Nicole, from Chicago! We are twenty five years of age. I am a preschool teacher. I graduated with my bachelors a few years ago. I love being a teacher and expanding little ones minds.
Ashley: My name is Ashley! I love writing and One Tree Hill. I went to school for Mass Communication with a concentration in broadcasting. I love editing videos and hope to publish a book (or a few) some day.
What has been your journey of disability?
Nikki: My journey with my disability began in March of 2019. My sister and I were in a car accident that we were told we were ejected from the car which in turn led to our emergency spinal cord surgery. For me, I remember going to the gym the day before, having dinner with my sister and then waking up in intensive care. I was confused about what was going on and why the heck I could not physically move. I felt the same yet had no clue someone could get paralysis in the middle of their life. I remember thinking “where is Ashley?” Then I found out she was in worse condition than I was and I felt I had to push myself to show her and myself we were going to get through this when at the time I had no clue what we were facing. It has been an uphill battle and everyday we have been making strides and figuring out our new lives.
Ashley: I was injured in March 2019 after being ejected from a car. I suffered a spinal cord injury leaving me a C4 quadriplegic. I had a trach in for a while and was breathing with the help of a ventilator and I also had a feeding tube in. Because of the trach I couldn’t talk which was very frustrating. It took a while for me to be moved from the ICU to rehab because I couldn’t get weened off of the ventilator. I ended up going to rehab on room oxygen during the day and only having to be put on the ventilator at night. Within three days they put a speaking valve on me and I was able to talk which was so freeing. I was still on the vent at night but was able to talk during the day. Eventually the feeding tube was removed, I got off of the ventilator, and the trach was removed. I’ve been slowly making progress. It’s been a very hard physical and mental journey, but I plan on reaching all of my goals.
Are there things about you that people misunderstand because of your disability?
Nikki: I think what I found that people misunderstand about me because of my disability is that my number one goal is to walk again. I would love to, don’t get me wrong. Yet there is so much more to this injury that a lot of people do not see unless they have it that I would want back before walking again.
Ashley: Yes! People think I can’t talk for myself and it’s annoying. A lot of people are not educated on spinal cord injuries and so they don’t know all that this injury entails. People also think my sister and I’s injuries are the same but every spinal cord injury is unique.
Who inspires you? Where do you get inspiration from?
Nikki: Honestly my sister inspires me every single day. She always did, she’s always been so smart, silly and adventurous. If you asked me someone who inspires me when it comes to this injury I would have to say the whole community. I mean there are some very strong inspirational women I have met and come across that inspire me in different ways since sustaining a spinal cord injury. I get my inspirations from these same people everyone on social media and the peer mentors I have met because they are showing me how to live like this. As someone newly injured having these people to watch and reach out to has been reassuring.
Ashley: My sister. She’s my everything. Her strength and determination pushes me every single day. She doesn’t let me quit ever and I love her for that.
Which three words would you use to describe yourself?
Nikki: Goofy, Caring, Queen.
Ashley: Loving. Strong. Determined.
What is one thing, experience or person you have had that completely changed your life?
Nikki: This experience has changed my life. As someone who has not been disabled for a long time, this situation has changed my life completely. I feel I have become a lot more aware of the way I let people treat me. I am more aware of who and what I let around me. I also have learned it is okay to show emotions and I cry a lot now at beautiful things; happy tears and also sad tears. This whole situation has completely changed my life and my mindset.
Ashley: This injury has completely changed my life. I can’t do the things I love the same anymore and I lost my independence. Literally everything has changed and it’s a learning experience and an eye opening one as well.
“As someone who has not been disabled for a long time, this situation has changed my life completely. I feel I have become a lot more aware of the way I let people treat me. I am more aware of who and what I let around me.”
Who or what has been the most significant influences on who you are today?
Nikki: The people who have been my most significant influences on who I am today has to be my mom, dad, my twin sister and family, my professor in college, and the children I have taught. I say this because if it wasn’t for my mom and dad I don’t think I would have this lovable bone in me. My twin sister because she has shown me strength. My family because no matter what we all go through we stick together and they have shown me strength and perseverance in any situation. I’m blessed to have that. My college professor Dr. Kim because without her I do not think I would be the teacher I am today. She taught me how to execute not just in the classroom yet also as a professional in the educational field. She taught me how to be organized in my work and personal life, she taught me that messing up is okay and she brought me out of my comfort zone. The children I have come in contact with throughout the years have taught me to take it easy, how to keep the innocence alive, and how precious life is. I am significantly influenced by children by their carefree nature and how simple they see people and the world around them.
Ashley: My sister for sure. We’ve been through it all together and I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for her always being my number one supporter and allowing me to be me 100% of the time. She wants me to be genuinely happy and I’ve learned that that’s the most important thing someone can want for you. Those pure and sweet intentions have had a great significance on who I am today.
What’s one thing about you that surprises people?
Nikki: One thing about me that surprises people is that once they get to know me I’m goofy. I will act a fool and do/say funny stupid things for no reason. It’s who I am and I love it.
Ashley: People are always surprised at how sarcastic and open I am. I come off as “shy” at first and people never expect me to be who I end up being I guess.
For what are you most grateful today?
Nikki: Today I am most grateful for being able to live this life. When the accident happened, it really made me grateful for life and to live in the moment. I am grateful for living!
Ashley: Today I am most grateful for not losing my sister in the car accident. I always say out of all the things I lost because of the accident I am so happy my sister wasn’t one of them.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Nikki: I would tell my 18 year old self to not take disrespect from anyone! Go after it and do not take things too seriously! I look back at my 18 year old self and I was always worried about becoming an adult and working so much. I would tell her to do for other people yet also take care of yourself.
Ashley: I would tell my 18-year-old self to live more spontaneously. I used to always need a plan for everything and overtime I learned that having a plan is not always needed and spontaneous adventure can be extremely rewarding.
Do you have a funny story or an experience that has happened only due to having a disability that you would like to share?
Nikki: A funny story I have is once when I first got home I was getting off my bed and my slide board moved. Which made me fall yet I caught myself on the bed so I was dangling and I yelled for my dad. He thought I was joking then I just let myself fall and when he came in he was like you’re being serious and the look on his face was so funny. We both laughed and were like what are we going to do. It was just an overall funny moment.
Ashley: I have a lot of funny moments. I like to joke and with this injury I need to laugh about it from time to time. I joke when people forget about my seat belt, try to shake my hand, or anything really.
Is there something that you would like people to know about you or about people with disability that they might not know?
Nikki: I would like people to know about me and people with disabilities is that we are just like you! I also would like people to know when it comes to a Spinal Cord Injury there is a lot more to it then just the fact that we cannot walk. Actually some people with spinal cord injuries can walk yet may not have hand function. Spinal cord injuries are all very unique as any other disability so don’t make judgements and assumptions.
Ashley: My only thing would be for people to not assume that everyone with a disability is stuck in this box. We’re just like everyone else. Some of us are mothers, some of us are daughters, some of us are friends, some of us are fathers… The only difference is that we have a disability and that’s okay.
“I would like people to not assume that everyone with a disability is stuck in this box. We’re just like everyone else. Some of us are mothers, some of us are daughters, some of us are friends, some of us are fathers… The only difference is that we have a disability and that’s okay.”
Do you have any advice or something you know that made a difference in your life journey that you would like to share with other women with disabilities?
Nikki: Advice I have that I would like to share with other women with disabilities is honestly stay yourself through it all. It is going to be tough yet as my favorite quote says “I know you’re tired I know you’re physically and emotionally drained but you have to keep going.”
Ashley: It’s okay to not be okay. You’re going through something life changing and not every day is going to be a good day.
**Christine Kerr is a wheelchair user, disability advocate, other, adventurer, ocean swimmer, and cat lover. She lives in Geraldton Western Australia with her husband and writes a blog called Inspired (Stories to connect, Engage and Inspire Women). “Inspired is dedicated to empowering women with disabilities from across the globe with authentic positive and inspiring content they’ve been waiting for. The blog is found at inspired.org.au.