June 20th, 2015 12:12 pm

First Posted: 3/21/2012

Natalie Smirne won't let a spinal cord injury stand in her way

When Smirne was 20 years old and a student at Wilkes University, she was riding in a car with a friend. They had a very serious accident, the car flipped five times, and Smirne was thrown from it. She injured her spine at the T vertebrae, causing paralysis from the chest down.

Smirne spent a month as an inpatient at Allied Rehab Hospital in Scranton, where she worked with physical therapist Gina Tomassoni, who specializes in working with patients with Spinal Cord Injuries. Smirne had also broken her wrist in the accident, making therapy even more challenging. Still, she says Tomassoni was able to help her gain strength and learn to transfer herself in and out of her wheelchair. "Gina was great," says Smirne. "She made me feel so much more independent."

Approximately 12,000 people suffer a spinal cord injury (SCI) annually, often resulting in a loss of mobility. The public is invited to join Allied Services, Pride Mobility and Marywood University in spreading awareness about SCI, March 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Robert Mellow Athletic Center at Marywood University and learn about potential new treatments and technologies in SCI rehabilitation. Activities will include wheelchair basketball (Allied Forces vs. Marywood), equipment demos, concessions and more. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free, donations welcome

By the time Smirne "graduated" from the inpatient Spinal Cord Injury program and became an outpatient, her wrist was out of its cast. This allowed her physical therapist, Stacey Cox, to help her get much stronger, and learn new ways to move. Stacey She also worked with occupational therapist Stephanie Maciolek, on hand therapy to get back strength and full function in her wrist.

"Stacey was amazing, and so was everyone I worked with at Allied," says Smirne. "Stacey is dedicated to making sure I get the most of each time I go to therapy, which is now three times a week. My spinal cord was not severed, so there is a good possibility I can regain more function."

Smirne, now 21, lives with her aunt in Throop, and with her three cats. She's "negotiating" with her aunt to get a dog, too. Originally from Avoca, Smirne would like to return there someday. But first she would like to return somewhere much more important to her. She wants to get back to Wilkes University and pick up where she left off before her accident.

Smirne has learned to drive through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and she is not sure whether to commute to school, or to live on campus. Either way, she is happy to move ahead in her studies and with her life.

Smirne is majoring in biology. She hopes to get into dental school someday.