While spending your summer working with dozens of kids may sound stressful to most people, for Janet Berganza, it served as motivation.
Berganza, 22, of Sedalia, has been a Youth Development Professional, and more recently a site assistant, with the Boys & Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri for about three years, but she hasn’t been able to work for the last seven months due to extensive injuries from a vehicle accident Jan. 4.
“I was driving home from Kansas City and then the front tire blew out. The car flipped a couple times and I flew out of the car,” Berganza said. “… I’ve been stuck in hospitals ever since then, I just got out not too long ago. I couldn’t come back to work, I won’t be able to walk.”
Berganza broke four ribs, her collar bone, chest bone, back, sustained a spinal cord injury and one of her hands was severely injured. Club staff received updates on her condition while she was in the hospital, and she said she received cards from members at all the local sites.
She has been going through physical therapy for months and is now in a wheelchair, which she said was a tough transition. She began using it about a month ago once her hand healed.
“It was tough to learn,” she said. I was slow for awhile, and it’s not as easy as it looks. You get tired because your arms do all the work. Part of therapy is just lifting.”
Therapy at Rusk Rehabilitation Center in Columbia has also been a struggle, but Berganza tries to stay hopeful.
“It’s been good. I’m hopeful, so I’m trying hard at therapy. It gets rough sometimes getting woken up at 5 a.m. to start your day, but it’s worth it,” she said. “Just the people that you meet, and you look around you and there’s a lot of people worse off than you, but you see them going through it and you see them getting better. You see things happen every day. Miracles happen over there every day.”
She was in inpatient therapy for several months, and she said they want her to return, but she has asked to put that on hold until next summer so she can work at the Club this school year, which has been a big motivator for her.
“(Working at the Club helps me) get my life back,” she said. “Everything just changed from one day to the next, and I don’t like it. So this gives me some sort of myself back.”
Berganza isn’t the only one in a wheelchair at the Club’s summer program at Skyline Elementary. A young Club member also uses a wheelchair to get around, and Berganza said he’s already shown her a few tricks.
“When I came in, it was not only good for me, he taught me so much,” she said. “A kid was asking ‘how long are you going to be in a wheelchair?’ And I said, ‘well the doctor said.’ And then he came up to me after that and said, ‘do you know what my mom says? You’re not a textbook.’ And that was from a 6-year-old.
“He hasn’t been around people much in wheelchairs, so he was so excited. It helps me and it helps him. He’s much better at it than me. … He already taught me how to stand in the wheelie position. He can walk his wheelchair. He does some crazy stuff. We raced a couple times outside,” she added with a laugh.
“We’re really excited to have her back,” said Communications Coordinator Emily Jarrett. “… It goes along with him that she can show kids there’s a different way to be and to live, and give him interaction with an adult in a wheelchair.”
Berganza has been back at the Club for almost three weeks and works a few hours each day to work around her therapy and doctors’ appointments. She’s been helping out with paperwork, but still makes sure to visit the classrooms and playground to see what the kids are up to.
“I can do something now. It doesn’t feel like I’m stuck at home not able to do anything,” she said. “I’m actually doing something, so it feels good to be back.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.