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Young Quadriplegic Slowly Putting Her Life Back Together

Lafayette resident Rebecca Forkey is hosting a fundraiser in Walnut Creek on Feb. 1, eight months after a drunken driving accident took away her ability to walk

Rebecca Forkey was severely injured by a drunken driver on May 5, 2013
Rebecca Forkey was severely injured by a drunken driver on May 5, 2013

Rebecca Forkey’s goal for 2014 is to pull herself in and out of a chair.

If she does that, the 25-year-old Lafayette resident will have come a long way since May 5, 2013.

That was the day authorities say a drunken driver smacked into the side of Forkey’s car, sending the vehicle tumbling end over end and paralyzing the young woman from the neck down.

To be sure, Forkey has made some progress since that horrible night.

She’s regained some movement in her upper torso and arms, although not her hands or fingers. And she has some sensation in her toes and on the bottom of her right foot.

Forkey feels good enough, in fact, that she is making her first public appearance since the accident.

It’ll be at a fundraising dinner and auction at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Renaissance ClubSport Hotel in Walnut Creek. The proceeds will go to the Southwest Spinal Cord Injury Fund in honor of Forkey.

Forkey has also been working through HelpHopeLive to raise money for her own medical expenses, rehab programs, equipment and a modified van.

Mostly, she has been working to keep her spirits bright and her thoughts positive. She plans to walk again some day and perhaps one day in the distant future to get behind the wheel of a car once more.

“She has come through this like a champion and a hero,” said John Forkey, Rebecca’s father.

It’s been a long journey in eight months for Forkey.

At the time, she was working as an aesthetician in the Walnut Creek office of dermatologist Dr. Edward Becker. She was also training for a national bikini modeling contest.

“I loved my job. I loved being at the gym. I had everything going for me,” said Forkey.

That all changed in an instant in the early evening hours of May 5.

Forkey was driving from a friend’s house in San Jose to her gym in Walnut Creek. Even though it was Cinco de Mayo she hadn’t had anything to drink.

“I was doing what I thought was the right thing to do,” she said.

Forkey had just traveled past the Livorna Road exit on northbound Interstate 680 when she caught a glimpse of a car hurtling toward her from the side. The last thing Forkey remembers was swerving to avoid the vehicle and then her face smashing into something really hard.

Police later told her the car she was driving flipped end over end eight times on the embankment next to the freeway before landing upside down.

Among other injuries, Forkey suffered fractures in four bones in her neck as well as a fractured jaw and a shattered left femur. She also crushed both lungs and her diaphragm.

Forkey was airlifted to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. She drifted in and out of consciousness after being brought into the hospital.

“When I got the hospital, I was in a nightmarish state,” she said.

Forkey doesn’t remember much from that night, but her father does.

John Forkey said when he got home from work that evening there were two messages from a John Muir trauma nurse telling him to call immediately. When he got in touch with her, the nurse told Forkey his daughter’s accident was “really bad.”

“My first thought was 'Oh God, please don’t take her,'” said Forkey.

As he was driving to the hospital, Forkey heard a KCBS radio report on the accident and figured out what had happened.

“All I had at that point was my faith in God,” he said.

Forkey wasn’t given much information until 11:30 p.m. He was told Rebecca had severe spinal damage.

At 12:45 a.m., he was allowed to see his daughter. Her head was in a vice grip and was swollen to the size of her shoulders.

“I was just overcome with sorrow,” he said.

Rebecca was put in a medically induced coma for several days. At one point, incisions were cut across her eyeballs because of the swelling in her head.

On May 10, she had fusion surgery to repair her neck bones. A titanium rod was eventually put in her left leg.

Forkey was transferred from John Muir to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center on May 31. As the pain medication was eventually reduced, Forkey realized she had no feeling in her legs, not even sensations of hot and cold. That was the first time she was aware that she couldn’t walk.

Forkey left the hospital in August and returned to her father's house in Lafayette.

She has worked every day to get some of her life back.

Among other things, she travels to Pleasanton three times a week to the Sci-Fit gym, a facility that specializes in spinal cord injury rehabilitation.

"That's the biggest thing for me. It's something I look forward to," said Forkey.

It has paid off to some degree.

Forkey has regained some use of her arms and she's gained some strength in her upper torso. She can hook a water bottle around her thumb and text with the same digit. She can also sometimes pull herself up to a sitting position.

"I find ways to adapt and make things work for me," she said.

However, there is still plenty she can't do. Some of isn't obvious, such as opening and closing drawers or using a fork and knife or getting dressed.

"It's the little things that people take for granted. I need help doing pretty much everything," said Forkey. "Just for one day, I'd like to have my hands back."

She also has someone with her at all times. There's little chance to get some quiet, private time.

"Except when I'm asleep, there's never an hour when I'm not with somebody," she said.

There are also continuing health issues. Forkey has blood pressure problems because of the lack of circulation in her legs. Her body also struggles with regulating temperature.

And there's the mental aspect.

In the weeks after the accident, Forkey would dream about trying to swerve away from that other car, then wake up and realize it wasn't just a dream. It actually happened.

Now, if she's riding in a car and another vehicle comes too close, she'll flash back to the accident.

Authorities say the other car on that fateful night was driven by Kathleen Harding. Prosecutors have accused Harding of driving drunk that evening.

Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney Angela Lyddan said Harding is facing charges of driving under the influence causing great bodily injury and a head injury as well as reckless driving with an enhancement of causing great bodily injury and paralysis.

Harding has pleaded not guilty to the charges. She's free on $70,000 bond, according to Lyddan, and has a preliminary hearing scheduled on Feb. 4.

Forkey said Harding has never contacted her.

However, the young woman says she's not bitter nor is she angry. Sadness sometimes overwhelms her, but she says when she starts to cry she finds a reason to smile.

Among other things, Forkey has reconnected with her aunt, Susan Newsom. They had little contact for 15 years before the accident. Now, Newsom sees her niece almost every day and Forkey says she can't imagine spending her life without her aunt.

Newsom said she is amazed by Forkey's strength and her resilience.

"She has never been down," said Newsom. "When we used to visit her in the hospital, she'd cheer us up."

There are words painted above the door of Forkey's room. They say:

"Cherish yesterday. Live for today. Dream for tomorrow."

Forkey said she does just that.

She is thankful for her family and friends who comfort and help her. She is thankful for the progress she has made. And she's thankful her brain wasn't injured in the accident.

"I'm changed, but I'm not broken," she said. "I'm still the same person."


Sadie Berkhimer January 17, 2014 at 11:46 AM
What an inspiring story of true grit on this amazing young woman's part. May God bless her as she continues to heal.
marge felix January 17, 2014 at 02:56 PM
Rebecca is the most amazing young woman you will ever meet! She is my inspiration in life!!! I am so privileged to have her as my niece and Goddaughter. I pray one day to be able to closer together again so that I can spend many long evenings talking, helping her and dreaming with her about her wonderful future ahead in life!! Thank you God for letting us keep her in our lives!!! Love Aunt Margie
RM January 20, 2014 at 04:09 PM
Best of luck in your journey! I really wish you all the best and hope that you can put as much of this behind you as possible over time.

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