“I’m still the same Lupe,” says Guadalupe Galeno Hernandez. “I can talk. I can do things. It’s just that I can’t walk—that’s the only difference.”
Guadalupe speaks these words quietly but confidently. It’s been more than five years since, at 13, she sustained a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed from the waist down. She stayed at Gillette nearly six months as she built strength and learned to make the most of her existing abilities.
“When I came to Gillette I couldn’t do much. I wanted to give up. But I kept pushing myself—my therapists pushed me too,” remembers Lupe. “I grew strong.”
Guadalupe and her mom, Hilda Hernandez, had always been close. But Guadalupe’s injury meant changes to their relationship too—Hernandez would become both mom and caregiver to her daughter after their return home.
“When Lupe’s doctors and nurses told me everything I would need to do, it was nerve-wracking,” explains Hernandez through an interpreter. “But they made sure I felt comfortable caring for her. They supported her and they supported me.”
Homecoming means adjustments
Though thrilled to have her daughter home, Hernandez admits it was difficult at first. She describes it like starting all over. “Many times I would get up during the night feeling anxious—thinking ‘mi hija, mi hija’ [my daughter, my daughter]—and go check on her.”
Guadalupe experienced more changes when she returned to school. “The people that were my friends before, they didn’t treat me the same as when I could walk,” she remembers. “I’m still the same Lupe. But for them, everything changed.”
She kept going, she says, because it was important to her mom. She’d be the first of Hernandez’s children to graduate from high school. “I wanted to give up. But I pushed myself for my mom.”
“Family keeps me going.”
Guadalupe is honest about another change that resulted from her injury. “I had depression really bad,” she shares. Her mom, she says, helps lift her up. “She’s always there for me when I want to cry,” she says. “She can make me laugh over the smallest things.”
Another bright light? Her young niece and nephews. “When they were born, it kept me going to watch them grow up. We play. We just hang out. They make everything bright.”
Guadalupe calls her large extended family a source of support and friendship. “There are times we argue, there are times we laugh. We know we love each other.”
Graduation and beyond
Guadalupe graduated from high school in May 2016. It fulfilled her mom’s dream. “She’s my baby girl,” says Hernandez. Her tears aren’t of sadness today, but pride. “Her physical limits don’t matter—she can do something with her life.”
Lupe thinks she might want to become a teacher. She knows it will be hard, she says. “But I want to keep going no matter what happens.”