Quadriplegic mom-to-be realizes her dream despite challenges

A Mom's story Kaney O'Neill wasn't expecting a yes on the drugstore pregnancy test.

But there it was.

She’d always pictured herself as a mom. “I’ve always loved kids. I figured I’d have about 10 or so,” the 31-year-old Des Plaines mom-to-be says.

But 10 years ago, on Sept. 15, 1999, a hurricane blew into Newport News, Va. Its fury was strong enough to change the dreams of the tall, willowy Navy woman who had her sights set on seeing the world but instead found herself assigned to a ship in dry dock at the Newport News Navy shipyard.

As Hurricane Floyd hit, O’Neill was busy hauling equipment inside. Its intense winds and heavy rain, which ultimately killed 57 people and caused $6 billion in damages, blew O’Neill off a balcony, sending her crashing to the ground. She lay in the water, her neck broken, listening to the screams of the ambulance coming for her.

She was just 21. “Just one of those freak accidents,” she says simply.

Surgery done on backup generators because of widespread power outages revealed her spinal cord severed at the fifth and sixth vertebrae, leaving her a quadriplegic (with minimal movement in her arms and shoulders). In the two weeks she lay unconscious, her lungs collapsed, she needed numerous blood transfusions and her family gathered around her.

When she awoke, her first question wasn’t whether she’d ever walk again. “What I wanted to know most was, could I still have children,” O’Neill recalls.

With the doctors’ yes came peace.

She moved to Chicago and, with her mom’s urging to return to school, graduated from Oakton Community College with honors and from Northwestern University magna cum laude. She now heads her own general contracting construction company.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” O’Neill says. “What you are willing to put in is really what you get out in life. If you put it all in, you reap all the rewards.”

And surprises happen, like the December day she sent her boyfriend, David, to the drugstore for the pregnancy test. Goofing around and taking photos and joking about how their life would change, she says she never expected she was pregnant.

First came shock: “How am I going to do this? This is going to be a new challenge,” she thought. Then came happiness.

There are a lot of uncertainties, right down to whether or not she will feel the baby kick. “(Doctors) don’t really know what you are going to feel so they are always asking, ‘Do you feel the baby?'”

She also discovered that the Veterans Administration hasn’t had a lot of experience with pregnant quadriplegics. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago is working to help her learn how to hold and nurse her son.

“I want to be the hands-on mom, I want to do everything. Hearts-on mom is really what it is,” she says.

She hopes more women with disabilities are encouraged to have children and that society better accepts that people with disabilities can be great moms. “They can function like everybody else; they just have more challenges. I like to say everyone has a cross to carry.”

Yes, there are worries, she says, but “I feel at peace with it, this is how it was meant to be, this is what was meant to be.”

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