In most ways, Meagan is a typical teenager. She laughs a lot, talks about boys, loves her friends and is constantly interrupted by cell phone rings and text messages on her phone. But Meagan stands out in a very significant way. For the last two and a half years she has been navigating her teen years in a wheelchair.

Dealing with it is just a bump in the road for Meagan, though.

In November 2005, Meagan and her family were involved in an accident near their Mannford home on S.H. 51. To avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle, Meagan’s mother, Kathi, swerved off the road to save her family. The car rolled, throwing Meagan and two siblings from the vehicle. Kathi was still trapped in the vehicle, unharmed but distraught over what might have happened to her kids.

Ashlyn, 9, and Christian, 11, suffered only cuts and bruises, but Meagan was thrown 20 feet from the car — and she wasn’t moving.

The first eyewitness to get to Meagan was Jim Johnston of Stillwater and his son, James. Their family was eastbound on the highway when they saw the accident. James had a bad feeling when a car came from behind, passed them on the two-lane road and did not immediately get back in the right hand lane. The driver of the car hung in the left hand lane yet again farther up the road. That’s when James saw the headlights from the Waffles’ westbound car.

That’s when the Waffles’ car skidded off the road — and the person who had swerved into their lane kept on driving.

When Jim found Meagan, she was conscious but in shock. “She kept saying she wanted to go home,” he says.

Meagan does have some memories of the night of the accident. She remembers the car swerving, lying in the dark, seeing emergency lights everywhere and being with her brother, Christian, in the helicopter and ambulance. She doesn’t remember seeing Jim or his son or even her mother.

She remembers screaming and thinking her life was over.

“But I was so glad to be alive,” she says. She understands that even though she was paralyzed, it could have been so much worse. She says she was thankful her twin brother Justin wasn’t with her or he might have been paralyzed.

“That would have been hard for him since he plays football,” she says.

After 40 minutes, a helicopter arrived to transport Meagan to St. Francis in Tulsa.

Meagan was diagnosed with what is called a T5 injury, meaning she was paralyzed from the chest down. She spent more than three weeks in ICU with a bad case of pneumonia. Then she was flown to Shriners Hospital in Chicago to start rehabilitation.

She spent more than two months at Shriners, slowly getting her strength back and learning how to regain her balance. When she arrived she couldn’t even hold her head up, but with exercise she was soon able to sit upright and increase her upper body strength.

The first time she went to Shriners, she cried.

“I wanted to go home,” she said. “I love it now. I can’t wait to go back. There’s so much to do and it’s so much fun. It doesn’t seem like a hospital.”

Meagan has participated in almost all aspects of rehab except psychological counseling. “They tried to sit down and talk to me,” she says. “But I told them I was fine and that I didn’t need any counseling.”

Some kids are not as lucky as Meagan to be blessed with that kind of attitude. One in particular told her that he thought his life was over until he met her. Now he says he’s the happiest kid since he’s met Meagan. He even created a group on Facebook dedicated to her called “Meagan Waffle is Inspirational.”

Dr. Vogel, her doctor and the medical director of the Spinal Cord Injuries Program at Shriners, believes there will be a cure within 10 years. Meagan thinks it will be sooner.

Vogel says, “She’s a very normal teenager — with a lot of spirit and energy. She has worked very hard in all the rehab activities and tries to make it as fun as possible. Her personality makes it easy to do that. She and the other teens in the hospital are very supportive of each other. People like Meagan really help motivate others to do better. Her family is phenomenal, especially her mom and grandfather.”

In fact, her grandfather plays a big part in her rehab by helping her every morning with her range of motion exercises and other activities.

Before the accident, Meagan thought of becoming a lawyer. Now, she hopes to become a nurse who works with spinal cord injured kids. The nurses, doctors and therapists at Shriners have inspired to work with kids who have experienced what she has been through.

“I am strong because of the people at Shriners,” says Meagan. “They are amazing. If I didn’t go there, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”

Meagan has many goals, and among them is the desire to walk across the stage at senior high school graduation to receive her diploma.

“I want to be able to stand in front of my class and say ‘I’ve waited years for this!’” she says, laughing.

At the beginning, going to school was a bit of a challenge, but school administrators have adapted to Meagan’s condition. If she sometimes falls asleep in class, they understand that she may be having a reaction to her medication. They’ve also converted space at the school into a therapy room.

Meagan has become close to Jim, the man who stopped with his son to comfort her until medical help arrived.

“Jim is very special to me, she says. “He has done so much for me since I’ve known him. He’s like family to me. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

“I feel touched by his son James because he was the first one on the scene.”

Jim says, “She’s an amazing girl with a beautiful attitude.”

Her friend Taylor has been with her through everything. She has even traveled with her to Chicago for Meagan’s therapy. At eighth grade graduation, the two of them were awarded the Dynamic Duo award at school for demonstrating what true friends should be.

Taylor says, “I think Meagan stays positive because she has a great mom and grandpa and really good friends. Plus she knows she will be able to walk across that stage at graduation. She’s been through a lot but she’s doing great.

“Her attitude is what is going to get her through this, and God is with her. She’ll be fine.”

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