BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Lesamarie Hacker isn’t a typical pageant holder with a sash and a tiara. Her hands shake from tremors, and her voice is a whisper after recent surgery on her esophagus.

“My list of medical issues is ridiculous,” said Hacker, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair.

Even with these medical problems, Hacker proudly wears her title of Ms. Wheelchair Indiana 2017 and uses it to foster awareness around people, like her, who face physical and emotional challenges, those like her who require safety rails throughout the house for support, a ramp leading up to the door and the aid of a full-time caregiver.

The Ms. Wheelchair America program was started in 1972 by physician Philip Wood of Columbus, Ohio, to celebrate the achievements of those with physical challenges. Hacker was named the Indiana recipient by leaders in the national program. She will compete in Pennsylvania against 30 title holders for Ms. Wheelchair America.

“It’s about being your own advocate,” Hacker explained.

She suffered her first stroke in February 2013, and was forced to relearn motor control and endure significant physical therapy. Her self-esteem also took a hit.

The left side of her body was flaccid, unable to move. She couldn’t speak, due to speech aphasia. As she went through therapy at the hospital and then at Meadowood, there were times she was ready to give up.

Hacker recalls someone at Meadowood brought her some paints and a sketch pad to distract her during the nine months of therapy there. Hacker did not appreciate the kind gesture.

“Well, I told her where to put those,” the 48-year-old said. “I wasn’t a happy person.”

Her full-time caregiver and partner, Terry Hogue, explained how much she struggled in the beginning of therapy.

“It was emotional and frustrating for her,” Hogue said.

But Hacker persisted. She drew strength from those around her, including Hogue. All throughout her Bloomington home are reminders of love. Pictures of her five living children, crosses, devotional books and a passage from the Bible, Exodus 15:2 — “The Lord is my strength and my song” — hang in her kitchen.

And she would decide later to take up painting after all.

She first learned to paint with her mouth, since she couldn’t move much of her body with any coordination. Later she used her foot, and eventually her hand.

All this progress, and then a big setback came barreling out of nowhere last year.

A driver, busy texting rather than watching the road, slammed into her at the intersection of Tapp and Leonard Springs roads.

She was crossing the street in her motorized wheelchair, her neighbors’ little boy in her lap. She was in the midst of traveling to Wal-Mart for a few groceries when her life took yet another turn.

She managed to fling the boy out of her lap. He suffered some scrapes and bruises, but she was hit and thrown into the air, flipping three times.

Hacker said a witness to the accident still communicates with her through Facebook. The woman’s child, who was with her, said “Mommy, that was like a movie” when the boy saw Hacker flip through the air.

“It set her back,” Hogue said of the accident. “It hurt her mobility.”

But Caregiver Homes of Indiana provided help and support to Hogue and Hacker.

Caregiver Homes is a Medicaid program that works to develop a home-based network of support for individuals with disabilities or other medical problems. The group trained Hogue so he could be a full-time caregiver for Hacker.

Hogue described Caregiver Homes as more than just a business or a program. To him and Hacker, it was a family, one that helped them stay in their home rather than go to a nursing center.

“Without them we wouldn’t be living here,” Hogue said. “I’d be living in a shack in the woods so she wouldn’t be in the nursing home.”

Being at home and in the Bloomington community is essential for Hacker and her message about accessibility and disability education.

Hacker said she’s tired of the stares, the careful parents who pull their kids away from her instead of asking her questions about her condition. She’s tired of feeling like she’s being rude if she just tries to stand up for herself. So she does what she can.

Sometimes she will make car noises at children when she’s at the store and say “race me, race me.” They play along, laughing as they race her in her wheelchair.

She’s not different, she’s not useless. She’s a person, Hogue explained.

“She thinks she’s not useful in the chair, but she is,” Hogue said. “She’s just like you and I.”

Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times,

Information from: The Herald Times,

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The (Bloomington) Herald-Times.

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