Bride-to-Be Rachelle Friedman Is Paralyzed After a Bachelorette Party Joke Went Wrong

Rachelle Friedman probably won't walk again after severing her spinal cord.

November 16, 2010, 2:41 PM

Nov. 17, 2010 — -- Rachelle Friedman says she remembers the very moment she went from bride-to-be -- just a month away from her dream wedding -- to wheelchair-bound, paralyzed from good-natured horseplay gone terribly wrong at her own bachelorette party.

"It all happened very quickly," Friedman, 25, told Friedman had been out celebrating her pending nuptials with her bridesmaids when they decided to go for a swim at the end of the night.

"We got home, ran upstairs and changed into our bathing suits," said Friedman. "My best friend -- and she still is my best friend -- she playfully pushed me in like we've done a million times."

"It was playful, but it went wrong," she said. "It was a freak accident." She hit her head on the bottom of the pool.

"I instantly went stiff and couldn't move," said Friedman. "I weirdly did not panic, I kind of knew exactly what happened and I floated up to the surface and said, 'Help!' and then my friends called 9-1-1."

"I remember when they were pulling me out of the water I could see my legs below me but I couldn't feel the water on them," she said.

Doctors at the Virginia Beach, Va., hospital quickly determined that Friedman had suffered a C6 spinal cord injury, leaving her unable to walk, or even feel sensation beneath her collarbone.

"I remember the doctor telling me I wasn't going to walk," said Friedman. "He was very sure that I'd never, ever walk. Sometimes they give you percentages, he was pretty much like 'absolutely not.'"

The first call Friedman made was to her fiance, Chris Chapman, who had been camping with his father the night of the accident.

Friedman and Chapman's wedding had been set for June 27 at the Lesner Inn in Virginia Beach. A wedding website created by Friedman shared notes of excitement that she was marrying her "very first boyfriend." The two had been engaged for nearly a year and together for five.

"I remember talking to him – I wasn't crying I just wanted him to understand the severity of it before he got to the hospital," Friedman said of a phone call to her fiance after the accident. "I wanted to make sure he knew what happened that I didn't just break my leg.

"I said, 'I broke my neck and I'm probably not going to walk,' I was very straightforward and very monotone with him," she said.

After a stint in the ICU and then nearly three months in the hospital, Friedman quickly learned just how grueling rehab would be.

"It was definitely a reality check about the long road I was going to have," she said. "I have no function in my hands – no fingers. I didn't think about that in ICU, you only think, 'I'm not going to walk.'"

"Now, going through everything, that's the first thing I'd want to come back -- my hand function," she said. "Even before being able to walk."

On August 17, Friedman finally returned to the home in Knightdale, N.C., where she and Chapman had dreamed of starting their family together.

Friedman Left Paralyzed After Bachelorette Party

As Friedman continued outpatient rehab, she quickly learned how fast her medical bills were piling up. Now she says that even though she still dreams of her "perfect wedding," marrying Chapman would make her ineligible for Medicaid, health insurance she says will help her stay out of debt.

"I'm pretty much screwed," said Friedman. "My insurance through my non-profit where I worked allows me only 20 days of rehab, which isn't enough."

"And if I marry Chris, [our combined income] will be too much to qualify for Medicaid," she said.

Chapman, a middle school science teacher, makes enough that Friedman says the couple can afford a nice lifestyle -- their own home, a dog -- but doesn't get close to providing what she'll need in terms of therapy and equipment.

"I can't even get a lift to get to the second floor of my house," said Friedman. Her catheter supplies cost around $2,000 per month.

Her toughest moments are when she's struggling with the nerve pain in her abdomen and fingers, said Friedman, and she does her best to keep her mind off the things she'll never get to do.

"The wedding, it was just so close," she said. "It was my dream to marry him and it still is but it makes me so sad that I won't walk down the aisle and have my first dance with him."

Friedman's mother, Carol Friedman, said she expects her daughter's wedding to be "the best."

"The wedding will be the best day ever for us, and I'm hoping that one day it will happen," she said.

Friedman said she and Chapman had wanted a family of their own, and that while she is still able to have children it would be difficult because of the amount of medication she takes.

"I'd have to wean off of everything and it would mean being in pain severely for nine months," she said. "I haven't ruled it out -- I'm almost willing to be in pain lying down for nine months."

An aerobics and dance instructor and active at a senior citizen home prior to her accident, Friedman wants to one day return to work and become "a contributing member of society." She feels confident that she could do administrative work, having taught herself how to type using just her thumb.

Coping with Paralysis, Friedman Says She Still Has a Perfect Life

Friedman says that she was never one to think of herself as invincible, and would even worry sometimes that something would happen to her that would tarnish her otherwise "perfect life."

"I was always kind of scared something was going to mess up my perfect world," she said. "It was literally perfect but it completely changed and that can happen to anyone."

"But I've learned that even if things do change you can still make your world perfect," she said. "It's just extremely different, we do everything differently now."

Friedman is making progress day by day and can finally sit herself up in bed.

One thing that hasn't changed for Friedman is her support system, from her fiance who bathes her and feeds her to her bridesmaids, including the one who pushed her into the pool last May.

"She's still my best friend," said Friedman, who declined to name the friend. "I don't blame her in any way -- I could have easily done the same thing."

"She was having a really hard time at first, but my family gave her a lot of attention and let her know we don't blame her and nobody is angry with her," said Friedman. "When people read the story I hope they realize how many times before we did this -- we pushed each other in the pool all the time."

"I tell her all the time that I am at peace with what happened, and she should be too," said Friedman.

For more information on Friedman's recovery, visit her website.

ABC News reporter Emily Friedman is not related to Rachelle Friedman.

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