While recovering from a paralyzing injury, Mary Salisbury said all daily improvements are “big victories.”
“You can’t really plan for these things,” said Salisbury, a 2017 journalism alumna. “They just happen, and you have to make the best of it.”
On July 10, Salisbury suddenly suffered a spinal infarction, or a stroke in the spinal cord, which resulted in paralysis from the chin down. A stroke causes damage to the brain from interruption of its blood supply.
After spending three months in the hospital, Salisbury moved back in with her parents in West Chester, Pennsylvania in October to continue her rehabilitation.
To help financially support Salisbury during her recovery, Leslie Gudel, a family friend and former sports anchor for Comcast SportsNet, started a YouCaring crowdfunding campaign in October to support her medical and adaptive living needs. The campaign has surpassed its $100,000 fundraising goal by more than $2,000.
During her time at Temple, Salisbury became interested in public relations through her business minor and communication internship at the Fox School of Business. Upon graduation, Salisbury accepted a job as an account coordinator with Tonic Life Communications, a Philadelphia-based health care public relations agency where she was responsible for media monitoring and press communication.
One day at Tonic Life, she felt a strange sensation in her neck, but continued working. After returning home, she experienced the feeling again. This time, it spread through her entire body, paralyzing her. Salisbury’s roommate drove her to Jefferson University Hospital, where she learned she had suffered a spinal infarction.
Her doctors, Salisbury said, called the infarction an “incomplete injury” because she did nothing to cause it and they don’t know why it happened. Her paralysis left her confined to a wheelchair and unable to do most basic tasks on her own.
She then spent two weeks in a neurological intensive care unit, followed by one week in a standard ICU. After her release, Salisbury spent about two months at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital on Race Street near 16th.
“That’s where I made most of my progress,” Salisbury said. “My physical therapists were awesome and I made a lot of great friends there on the spinal cord injury floor.”
Just four months into her rehabilitation, Salisbury said she has had to adjust to the sudden change in her living situation and career plans.
“It’s not like breaking your arm,” Salisbury said. “Obviously moving back home with my parents was not necessarily ideal after being independent for so long.”
Salisbury’s close friend from high school, Alex Kimmel, said it is hard to watch Salisbury grapple with her injury, especially given Kimmel’s current job as a clinical research assistant for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“The most difficult thing was watching all of this happen and feeling helpless to prevent it,” Kimmel said. “I currently work in pediatric stroke research, so the cruel irony of Mary having a stroke has been particularly difficult for me. I want desperately to have a magic cure. I want to be able to say I or anyone in medicine has made enough progress in brain research that we have a solution.”
Despite being initially paralyzed below the chin, Salisbury now has full use of her left hand and arm. She added that she can now feed herself and put on mascara using her left hand. Salisbury said her doctors haven’t ruled out the possibility of a complete recovery.
“In order to keep going, I stay positive no matter what, and take it one day at a time,” Salisbury said. “I’ve learned to use what I do have and prepare for the future.”
In addition to her own progress, Salisbury said she feels grateful for the “overwhelming” support she’s received on the YouCaring page.
“I had no involvement in [the fundraiser],” Salisbury said. “But it was beautiful to see how kind people could be, banding together for someone they don’t even know.”
For Kimmel, Salisbury remains the same person she’s always known.
“Mary is still Mary,” Kimmel said. “She is still my best friend. All of the fundamental elements of who she is, her kindness, her intelligence, her resilience, her drive, her creativity, her integrity, are completely unaffected by the stroke. She is still at her core the amazing friend and person that I have loved and admired for years.”