Putting life into perspective

Ryan Estrada reflects on the debilitating car crash that changed his life forever

photo courtesy Estrada family

Life can change in an instant, as junior Ryan Estrada recently discovered.

On Nov. 8, 2017, Estrada was involved in a life-altering car accident.

The accident occurred when Estrada was running late to school on a rainy Wednesday morning. While attempting to avoid a bicyclist on the road, Estrada swerved and lost control of his vehicle.

The car hit a mailbox and a tree near the library on Gayton Rd, severely injuring Estrada.

His immediate reaction was fear.

“I first thought ‘oh no, I can’t move’,” said Estrada.

A woman discovered the horrific scene and believed she was looking at a dead body when she saw Estrada limp in his car.

Estrada was rushed to the hospital with severe injuries, suffering broken vertebrae in his neck, broken ribs, a mild concussion, and a serious spinal injury, resulting in paralysis from the chest down.

When Estrada’s mother first got the call from the Henrico police that he had been in an accident and was taken to MCV, she knew Ryan was in a bad situation.

“When I saw Ryan in the ER I was relieved that he was alive, but I quickly realized he was in bad shape when I saw how low his blood pressure and heart rate were. He could not even feel me holding his hand,” she said.

At the VCU Medical Center, Estrada was immediately sent into surgery to attempt to fuse his C3, C4, and C5 vertebrae back together.

photo courtesy Estrada Family

However, before undergoing the risky spinal procedure, Estrada met an unexpected visitor. In a moment Estrada described as an “out-of-body experience”, he spoke with his deceased uncle and grandfather whom he never had the chance to meet in real life.

“It felt surreal but calming and humbling. My Uncle Jack reached out to me, took away my pain right before my surgery, and assured me that I was in God’s hands now. I felt at peace,” said Estrada.

Estrada spent a week in the Trauma Center and was then moved to the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Center for extra recovery time.

“My hospital stay at VCU helped me adapt to a whole new living experience. The people there were the people I trusted to do what they could to help me recover enough to come home and begin my new journey,” said Estrada.

While in the hospital, Estrada received support from various people in the community such as family, teachers, friends, coaches, and even USA Olympic Swimmer Townley Haas.

“I felt inspired when Townley came to visit on his Christmas break from college. It was funny to laugh at a time I was in the locker room at NOVA after he won his gold medal,” said Estrada.

He also received letters from the Godwin swim team, St. Mary’s Church teen groups, and people who saw the story on the news.

“My room in rehab was always loud. All of these visits and letters kept my spirits up and kept me motivated,” said Estrada.

Estrada is now back home, but not without drastic changes to his lifestyle and everyday tasks.

He will go to therapy four days a week for about three months in order to work on regaining various movements in the body.

“I have had to adapt a lot because I am paralyzed from the middle of the chest down and I have little use of my hands. I am very dependent on others to do simple tasks for me,” said Estrada.

With new hardships arising for Estrada and his family, others in the community have stepped up to help in different ways, and his mother had to quit her second job to stay with Estrada on the weekends when she would normally work.

Fundraisers including bake sales from his cousin in Ireland, hot chocolate stands on tacky light tours, and donations from churches all contributed to the therapy and medical bills. A GoFundMe was created by a family friend to also help pay for expenses such as a wheelchair accessible shower where their old mudroom used to be and a wheelchair accessible van to get Estrada to therapy.

In the direct Godwin community, “Ryan strong” bracelets have been sold around the school. Ryan Bailey, another Junior at Godwin and close friend of Estrada, has been one of the main distributors of the bracelets.

photo courtesy Estrada Family

“Ryan has been like a brother to me since elementary school and for something that serious to happen to him was shocking. It only felt right to raise as much money as possible for him and his family. Ryan is getting stronger every day,” said Bailey.

Estrada plans to return to Godwin for half days as soon as he can, but his priority is therapy for now.

“My main recovery goal is to walk again before the eighth of November of this year,” said Estrada.

In regards to recovery, Estrada’s mother is maintaining a continuously affirmative attitude.

“I am in awe of Ryan and his positive attitude dedicated to a full recovery. The road is long and uncertain but we are prepared for this journey through the constant support of our family, friends, community, medical team, and faith in God,” she said.

Although Estrada has new challenges to face in his life, there are positives he has taken from his situation.

“The accident has made me closer to God, it’s made me a fighter, and it’s brought me to a realization that the little things in life should not be taken for granted. You’re given one life to live, so make the best of it,” said Estrada.

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