This story originally appeared on The Local Moms Network.
In January 2018, Stephanie (Steph) Cowie suffered a devastating stroke, Vascular Myelopathy, to her spinal cord. Immediately, the mom of one was paralyzed. She spent almost three weeks in the hospital, and a month in a rehabilitation center learning to do daily activities, like dressing and bathing, before returning home to her family.
“When something as devastating and life-changing as paralysis happens to you, it also happens to your family. After this life-altering event, we needed time as a family unit to process this loss,” says Steph, who lives in Greenwich, CT with her husband, Jim.
In the years since her spinal stroke, Steph has not only seen her son Sean (now 18) go to college, but she’s also become even more invested in her local community.
At the same time, she had to leave her position as Vice President at American Benefits Consulting, an Alliant Insurance Services Company in New York City and as a Senior Employee Benefits Consultant for Fortune 50 & 100 companies—experience she brings to her work now.
For this week’s Meet a Mom interview, The Local Moms Network asked Steph about what has kept her motivated to not only fight for her own health, but also give back to her community.
Thank you for sharing your story. As a mom, how did your family help you through your spinal stroke and the years since?
It is hard to describe the incredible strength both my husband of 18 years and our son, age 13 at the time of my stroke, displayed. My husband has been a rock, taking on so much more of the day-to-day and caring for Sean and me.
Your marriage vows come to life when you are reminded of “In sickness and in health.” There was no road map for something like this. But over these last six years, Jim has kept our family together.
We were also fortunate to be surrounded by our extended families and friends who picked each of us up when we needed it most. The quote, “It takes a village,” is correct. I lost my livelihood, my ability to walk, my ability to do almost anything, and now I would be a burden to my family. I struggled with the question: what was my purpose after my injury? Do I even have an identity, a “me?” I had forever identified myself in my professional career as a full-time consultant, and without my career, what would I be?
My almost 13-year-old son answered, “You’re my Mom!” My son’s heartfelt and simple response is a direction I desperately needed then and continue to carry with me on this journey. I love being a Mom, and I love being his Mom!
So amazing. You are known for your positive attitude and the work you do in your community (before and after your injury). Was giving back something that has always been a part of your life?
Absolutely! My parents instilled the importance of volunteering and helping others. It has always been a positive outlet for me. And I am very thankful for the people I have met through the years. They helped shape who I am today.
I am most definitely a glass-half-full person. Well, most days! I try to find the “win of the day.” It doesn’t need to be anything significant; it could be that I found an accessible parking spot on the first try down the Avenue, made someone laugh who was having a difficult day, or ran into a friend whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade. This little thought helps me through good and bad days. Friends now look for their “win of the day.”
Love that! You were a collegiate athlete and still play golf. How has your sports background helped you through?
In high school, I was fortunate to have one of the best coaches as my field hockey and basketball coach. Patty Provost taught me about the importance of teamwork and grit. Both go hand in hand. You may find yourself injured and unable to play, or you need to work your way back; this is where the grit comes in, and remind yourself that it is always about your team.
I was also fortunate enough to play Division 1 Field Hockey in college. I have utilized those lessons in business and personal relationships. These lessons continue to push me to get out of bed when days are tough, get back on the golf course, and do something I love. Nothing is better than playing golf with my husband, son, and girlfriends. I couldn’t wait to return to the walk and conversations on the course before each shot. But now I get to roll between shots.
What advice do you give to other moms dealing with severe injuries or illnesses?
I am pretty candid with those I speak with and share that there are and will be many difficult days. I share the importance of their support system. I also share how important it is to expand their network and find those going through something similar, possibly a Facebook group or a group therapy session specializing in their illness or injury. And I always tell them what my son said about being his Mom! That has and will never change. We all can still show love! While I may not always play a pick-up basketball game with my son, I like to show him that I still have the best follow-through.
I have also heard “the new normal” thrown around quite a bit, but I like to think of it as normal. We all go through things that change us, but they don’t necessarily have to be defined as the new normal. It is simply a different path.
That resonates for sure. Recently, you’ve become more involved in local politics, from adapting the state-winning champion football team’s stadium to be ADA-compliant to winning a spot as on the Representative Town Meeting. Why are you so committed to giving your time to these causes?
Since moving to Greenwich in 2001, I have been volunteering and involved with the Junior League of Greenwich, United Way, Red Cross, and PTAs at each school our son attended. The time I have spent with these organizations has given back to me much more than I have given to them.
In 2019, I was fortunate enough to become involved with the First Selectman’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities (FSAC4PWD), where I serve as the Vice-Chair and was the Greenwich High School PTA Co-President. Cardinal Stadium had recently been condemned, and I was advocating for an ADA-compliant stadium., so the stadium would be inclusive and accessible. Through this process, I was asked to serve on the Cardinal Stadium committee, representing the FSAC4PWD and GHS PTA. My paralysis made me look at accessibility in a whole new light.
We need to continue to raise awareness about the issues facing those with disabilities and educate our communities on how to be more inclusive and supportive. We should focus on abilities rather than disabilities and provide support and accommodations to ensure equal access to opportunities and services. As a dear friend reminded me, we are all only temporarily able.
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