A freak accident during a poolside party left Rachelle Friedman’s body forever broken. The mishap didn’t make even the slightest dent, however, in the bride-to-be’s spirit — or her desire to marry the man who stood by her when both of their lives were suddenly turned upside down.
The accident occurred in Virginia Beach in May, a month before Friedman was to marry Chris Chapman, a seventh-grade science teacher from North Carolina. After attending a bachelorette party in her honor, Friedman and her girlfriends changed into bathing suits for a late-night swim.
Then came the push that changed Friedman’s life. It was just a playful tap from behind from a friend to get Friedman into the water. Unfortunately, the pool was only 3 and a half feet deep at the end into which Friedman plunged headfirst.
Rachelle Friedman immediately knew something was wrong. “As soon as I hit the water, I felt my body kind of stiffen up. I went numb and I kind of heard a crack in my neck,” she said.
The sound Friedman heard was her C6 cervical vertebra fracturing when her head hit the bottom of the pool. She has had no feeling below her collarbone ever since. Doctors say she will never walk again.
“We were horsing around by the pool. It was a freak accident,” said Friedman. “I just went in the wrong way.”
Of course, the wedding plans were immediately put on hold. But as soon as she was able, Friedman began physical therapy to relearn how to use her arms and hands, albeit with limited range of motion.
“Every day’s a fight. There are so many things I am unable to do right now. You have to fight if you’re going to get there,” she said. “There is no use in being down in the dumps and depressed. It’s not going to get you anywhere.”
The wedding is on
Friedman’s mother and brother stay with her during the day. The rest of the time, Chapman lovingly cares for the woman he still intends to marry.
“I never once thought about leaving her or the situation,” Chapman told Vieira. “It was simply a matter of: ‘We are a couple. We’re going to get through this,’ ” he said.
Many men would have been unable to cope with the constant care that someone with a permanent spinal injury requires. Chapman, however, said he will provide Friedman with all the love and care she’ll need.
“I certainly had moments where I felt it would be very difficult, and have had trouble coming to terms about what a future could be, but one day at a time we keep working through it,” he said.
The couple intend to marry next summer, but first they have to overcome some hurdles. For one, Friedman may not quality for Medicaid after her disability payments are coupled with her new husband’s salary.
And of course, they’ll have to redo the wedding invitations. The friend who pushed Friedman in the pool, whom Friedman declined to identify, will be among the invited guests.
“I didn’t have to forgive her; I never blamed her in the first place,” Friedman said of the friend, who she said was having “a hard time” getting over the incident emotionally. “It was a freak accident.”
As for Chapman, Friedman said she never had a doubt that he would stand beside her at the altar — albeit it a year later than planned, and with her in a wheelchair.
“I knew he’d be there for me,” she said. “If the roles had been reversed, I’d be there for him.”