Tag Archives: athlete

I Went from Independent Living to a Nursing Home After an Infection

My name is Jane Koza. I am 58 years old. I went from being a healthy adult to living in a nursing home by age 50. This is my story.


I was an all-star athlete in my youth, playing basketball and softball competitively. During my senior year of high school, we won the state championship in softball and basketball. I loved the experience of being on a team. Those great memories laid the groundwork for continuing athletics in college.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane was athletic and active in her youth


In 2005 when I was in my 40s, I learned that I needed knee surgery to walk comfortably. The knee surgery did not go as planned, and I contracted MRSA, which led to a second surgery for a total knee replacement—my knee joint had to be entirely removed.

After the second surgery, I slipped into a coma due to the infection. I went into a grand mal seizure and arthritic septic shock, resulting in a second infection. The infection traveled to my spine and left me with transverse myelitis, which resulted in paralysis from my chest down.

By April 2006, I was living a nursing home. I hadn’t even turned 50 years old yet.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane with one of her best friends, Stanley, in the nursing home


The transition was hard psychologically. You have to come to grips with the fact that you will never walk again. You expect to face medical challenges when you are in your 70s or 80s, not when you are in your 40s. It was also difficult to accept the fact that the best place for me to be would be in a nursing home where I could receive round-the-clock care as needed, including continual social and physical support.

I am different from the other residents here at the nursing home. I am still very young and active compared to most of the other residents. I still enjoy going to concerts, shopping, and visiting with friends outside of the nursing home, regularly.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane, pictured with her sister, is younger and more active than most other residents


It was extremely important to me to find independence and avoid being bedridden once I realized that I would be living in a nursing home. I also had to find a way to cover some of the medical expenses associated with my new life, including:

  • A wheelchair with greater flexibility and movement than the geriatric medical chair provided by the nursing home;
  • Special wheelchair cushions that reduce painful pressure sores, which are not covered at all by insurance;
  • Physical therapy so I can learn to transfer myself from my wheelchair to a bed or seat, and gain more self-sufficiency so I can someday leave this nursing facility;
  • Daily essentials like drainage bags, backpacks, cup holders, and adaptive equipment
Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane was overjoyed to meet her first Help Hope Live fundraising goal

These things can improve my quality of life and are just one part of what makes life worth living.

Even having the same caregiver day-to-day can improve your life when you are living with an illness like transverse myelitis. I will also encounter additional expenses in the future, so I am setting my sights on fundraising to offset the cost of a power chair, a private caregiver or aide, and more advanced physical therapy programs. These expenses can make a difference to my level of independence in the future. They would have a profound effect on my life.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane creates unique tree of life coloring pictures in exchange for donations


When my priority was to get a better chair than what was provided by the nursing home, I began fundraising with Help Hope Live for the Mid-Atlantic Catastrophic Illness Fund in 2015.

My beloved high school, Mother Seton, learned about my fundraising efforts and really came through to help me. The alumni association was instrumental in helping me reach my first fundraising goal. I couldn’t have done it without them. With their help, I was able to reach my goal and get the wheelchair I had been waiting for.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live Mother Seton

Jane’s former high school has helped her to fundraise

Help Hope Live has made a huge difference in my life, both in connecting me with old friends who can support me and in helping me monetarily offset the out-of-pocket medical expenses I could not afford alone. For that, I am eternally grateful.

To me, hope means that things can be better than they are today in the future.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane calls herself a “true survivor” navigating life with transverse myelitis


Jane Koza fundraises for the Mid-Atlantic Catastrophic Illness Fund. Click or tap here to read more stories about how mobility can change lives.

No Limitations: Equestrian Vaulting

We spoke to Alanna Flax-Clark, a paraequestrian who competes in equestrian vaulting and shows in paradressage events. In 2008, Alanna contracted an infection that rapidly destroyed her ability to walk. For Alanna, hippotherapy was an introduction to the immersive world of adaptive athletics.

Alanna Flax-Clark paraequestrian adaptive athletics HelpHOPELive horses

Alanna Flax-Clark is a paraequestrian competitor.

“Sports like equestrian vaulting and dressage have played a big role for me in gaining strength, coordination and mobility,” Alanna said. “It’s important that no matter how you get around, whether you walk or roll, you feel confident and secure in your body. I’ve learned to feel stronger and happier through my participation in sports.”

About Equine Therapy

According to the American Hippotherapy Association, hippotherapy is a way for patients to “engage…neuro, sensory and movement systems.” As the AHA notes, “a horse’s rhythmic, repetitive movements work to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, strength, flexibility and cognitive skills,” and encourage patient responses that simulate the techniques used for walking.

horse therapy hippotherapy equine therapy

Hippotherapy can improve strength, flexibility and even cognitive skills.

According to Ride On equine therapy center, “the horse, in some respects, ‘lends’ his nervous system to the patient so that the patient may experience organized movement.”

While adaptive riding tends to be recreational, hippotherapy is considered medical rehabilitation and is always supervised by a physician or professional. Hippotherapy has been used to rehabilitate patients with cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injuries, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and multiple other conditions.

HelpHOPELive equine therapy horse therapy rehabilitation horse riding horseback

Hippotherapy is always supervised by a professional.

New Challenges: Equine Athletics

Alanna began pursuing hippotherapy “with no expectations.” Today, she spends the majority of each week riding or training her horses for equine events.

hippotherapy horse therapy rehabiliation Alanna Flax-Clark

Alanna spends the majority of each week involved in equine activities.

While initially she worked with horses for physical therapy benefits, Alanna soon realized that she wanted more of a challenge. “After going through rehab and not seeing any progress, I began to get frustrated,” she said. “I wanted to get stronger, regain more mobility [and] coordination, and just be able to go outside in the fresh air and have fun.”

Over time, Alanna graduated from hippotherapy to adaptive riding lessons. At a riding show, Alanna competed in three classes and took home two first place ribbons and one second place ribbon. On a fateful day in 2013, Alanna saw an equestrian vaulting group perform at her riding facility. “When I saw what they were doing, I knew immediately that I had to get involved!” said Alanna.

equestrian vaulting gymnastics horse therapy

Equestrian vaulting is an impressive and challenging activity.

Equestrian vaulting is essentially gymnastics on horseback. To most, Alanna’s ambition as a wheelchair-bound rider seemed lofty and even ludicrous. But with tenacity, Alanna was able to begin competing on horseback at a walking pace within a year.

training equestrian vaulting Alanna Flax-Clark

Alanna kept practicing until she was able to compete at a walking pace.

The Benefits of Adaptive Athletics

Alanna identified some profound physical and emotional benefits of paraequestrian participation. “I didn’t grow up around horses and did not expect to fall in love with them as much as I did,” she said. “They really have transformed my life. Most people in wheelchairs participate in sports with other people who have similar disabilities. However, when I’m out of my chair on my horse, I’m on more of an even playing field with everyone else. You can’t even tell that I have a disability.”

Equestrian vaulting horse therapy hippotherapy Alanna Flax-Clark

“When I’m out of my chair on my horse…you can’t even tell that I have a disability.”

Equine athletics is supportive and collaborative, Alanna confirmed. “At practice my teammates ask for feedback on their routines and form; they don’t even see my disability,” she said. “They want me to jump right in and help. It’s an environment full of respect and encouragement.”

Equestrian vaulting hippotherapy Alanna Flax-Clark teamwork

Equine athletics is supportive and collaborative.

She hopes her tenacity will allow other individuals with disabilities to discover equestrian sports for themselves. “I’m the only [athlete] in a chair that competes at vaulting competitions, to my knowledge,” she said. “It’s a more difficult matter for people with disabilities to participate…at the competitive level – even though it shouldn’t be! Horses aren’t the first thing that people turn to when faced with an illness or disability. I hope that starts to change. Vaulting is truly an accessible sport for everyone, no matter your age or ability. When one person starts doing it, it opens up doors to others.”

Getting Started

Alanna urged fellow athletes to overcome their initial trepidation. “Many people think that getting on a horse is impossible depending on their disability, but if there’s a will, there’s a way!” she said.

equestrian vaulting equine therapy horses Alanna Flax-Clark wheelchair

“Horses are naturally empathetic animals.”

“Horses are naturally empathetic animals and can help people overcome their personal challenges. I never would have thought that I’d learn to post at the trot, be able to sit independently at the canter, and even do a shoulder stand or maneuver off my horse into my wheelchair!” Alanna said. I’ve made a huge amount of progress…I’m still continuing to make big strides and learn new things each day.”

Learn more about hippotherapy and paraequestrian athletics before you participate, and always discuss your plans with your support team. You can track Alanna’s progress in paraequestrian vaulting and dressage on her website.