Blanka Cabalková had worked as a civil engineer for over twenty years, devoting her time to the development of her husband’s business. “I’ve got to say this part of my life was quite hectic,” she admits. The two spouses liked to spend their free time on bicycles, exploring new corners of the Czech Republic.
A biking trip to Orlické (Eagle) Mountains in 2007 left a permanent mark on Blanka’s life and memory. While riding downhill, a brake cable snapped and she flipped over the handlebars. She can hardly recall the moment she fell and injured her spinal cord, and she has no recollection of what preceded the accident. “The only thing I can remember is that I was saying to myself that I must not fall on my head because I was wearing no helmet,” she remarks.
Immediately after the injury, rescuers transported Blanka to the University Hospital in Hradec Králové, from which she was moved to the spinal injuries unit of the Trauma Hospital of Brno. After about fourteen days, the doctors decided to transfer Blanka to a rehabilitation center in Hrabyně. “I spent seven months there, undergoing a standard rehabilitation program – physiotherapy, MOTOmed®, occupational therapy, and so on,” says Blanka, describing the initial phase of her convalescence.
During her stay at the rehabilitation center, it quickly became clear that before Blanka’s return to her apartment in Brno, there were some necessary barrier-free modifications that the couple needed to arrange. “We lived in a three-room apartment in a panel building, but the living quarters were so small that they required changes. Predictably, the doors were too narrow for a wheelchair to pass through, the bathroom was unsuitable, and there were other obstacles as well,” she explains. Blanka’s health insurance helped cover the costs. “With the money from the insurance company, we decided to move to an apartment that would fully accommodate a person with a disability,” she adds. Two years after Blanka’s accident, they were able to acquire a barrier-free home.
In the months after her injury, the thought of going back to work did not enter Blanka’s head at all. Civil engineering, which had been her lifelong occupation, was not known to be particularly accommodating towards wheelchair users. After rehabilitation, she mainly focused on improving her physical condition. Describing her life after rehab, she says, “At first, I was searching for opportunities to exercise, which there are few in Brno – but I found ParaCENTER Fenix and swimming.” At ParaCENTER Fenix, Blanka started attending regular rehabilitative therapy as well as gaining new insight from people who suffered the same fate. “Fenix really helped me better communicate with people who went through the same ordeal as I did. I found the sharing of experiences useful too. The people who have been wheelchair-bound for long can give you good advice on various challenges – and everyone can draw lessons from that and devise their own way of coping with the disability,” she remarks.
For some time, Blanka would return to ParaCENTER Fenix, until she was eventually offered a job with the organization. “At first they asked if I would help with administrative work. I thought it was high time that I went back to work, because staying home can get kind of dull and it is just better out there among other people,” she explains. Blanka’s involvement with Fenix deepened and she is now an active board member responsible for personnel management, among other things. She also puts her civil engineering knowledge to work by advising Fenix’s clients with barrier-free modifications. “In the future, I would like to focus on consultancy regarding barrier-free travel. I have had a handcycle for a while and my husband and I travel a lot, mapping and figuring out what is reachable to wheelchair users. So I can advise on possible trip destinations,” she concludes. Besides work and traveling, Blanka dedicates a lot of her energy to her family, most of all to her grandchildren.
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