"Life is What You Make It" -- Donna Zeoli's Story

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - May, 1996

Donna Zeoli has survived losing both her parents when she was young, her husband leaving her with three children and little money, and an auto accident that mangled her body. She is an amputee with a strong survivor spirit who would like to make contact with other survivors.

Here is her story in her own words:

You said you are interested in people who are survivors? I have a personalized handicap license plate that reads SURVIOR, (not enough letters to spell it right!) I was involved in an auto vs. semi accident in June, 1989, that resulted in many major injuries that should have been fatal. The doctors are still shaking their heads on how I did survive.

I was happily driving along with my daughter, her two small children and a child of a friend of hers when a semi-truck decided that he had stopped at a stop sign long enough, and proceeded to pull right in my path. I had no where to go.......so chose to hit his wheel rather than to proceed under the truck, hopefully, protecting my passengers.

I managed to do that quite well. My daughter had a small cut from the seat belt and a pulled muscle. The children were not quite as lucky, but still did better than they would have if I had not chosen that wheel. The child of the friend had a broken collar bone. The grand children both had "seat belt" injuries. The older one a broken pelvis, the younger a broken back at c-6. She is doing well these days with a brace used only when she is very active.

I had a closed head injury, with minor residual problems. Major scalp and facial cuts. A shattered sternum, with heart and lung bruising. Both knees suffered crushing injury and my right ankle was shattered as well.......that was the cause of my amputation 13 months after the accident. Oh, I forgot some minor breaks.....right collar bone, and left pelvic chip. So, as you can tell, I'm a "very, very lucky woman."

I was in a coma for the first several weeks and several months before much made sense. I spent the first 2 years in a hospital bed in the middle of our living room, watching the seasons change through the picture window. Only leaving the bed for medical appointments (being taken by ambulance since I could not sit up) and further surgeries to repair things little by little. (I was wearing a seat belt. My seat broke from the floor and threw me into the steering wheel.)

I also had a near death experience during one of my chest surgeries, when a major artery was cut by accident. Through all of this I tried my best to have a good outlook and to keep a smile on my face. After all, things could have been much worse!!! I've undergone 15 major surgeries to date and have several more in the future. But, all and all life is "GOOD" and I plan to do as much, see as much as I can till I can't any longer! I also have been very lucky to have a supportive husband and children, as well as many friends who have been there for us.

People are always surprised by my happy-go-lucky attitude, but I claim that is due to the type of life I've lived. I was an only child of parents who died at an early age. My father, who was my idol, died at 42 due to cancer. My mother, who had many emotional problems all through my growing up years, committed suicide a year after my fathers death. I was married at 17 and had my first child at almost 18. I went home to see her and spend my birthday with her only to be the one to find her dead of a gunshot wound to the head, with no note of any kind to explain why. Happy Birthday to me!!!

Two years later my husband decided he'd take 1/2 of the money left to me from my parents (he had checked to find out he could do that after 2 years). He divorced me to marry his new girlfriend. I was left with little money, no job skills and three small children.

I moved with the children to Knoxville, Tennessee, where I had an aunt and uncle. Got myself a job in a hospital laboratory and entered college part- time. We lived there for a little over a year when I had a chance to get a job back in Michigan at an auto factory, with better medical and pay. We moved back here and I went to the factory to work, putting college away for the time being.

The next year I re-met a high school friend and started dating him. We had gone all through school together and lived down the street from each other while young. Although, we had never dated or even had the same friends. We both had had failed marriages, so were a little shy on getting serious. After a year he moved in with the children and I to see if he could handle being a step-parent. (He had no children and could not have any.) That was an up and down life for several years, when he decided he was ready to marry again and I did too.

After several years I decided I hated my job and wanted to go back to school and back to working at the hospital. He was all for it as he has always supported what I wanted to do. I went back to school and worked part time. At about the same time my ex. (who never paid much child support, even though he had plenty of money) decided he didn't want to support his children anymore, and gave them up for adoption to my husband. He adopted the 2 younger children, the older choosing not to be adopted. We allowed the children to decide for themselves.

Life went on. I graduated from college and got a better job as a laboratory supervisor at a state mental hospital. Then "it" happened. Time to regroup and pick myself up once more.

Here we are, almost 7 years later, about to go to our 30th high school class reunion. We've been happily married for 18 years and getting ready for my husband's retirement next year!

I wish the accident had never happened, as being an amputee reminds me daily of it. But, no one asked me if I wanted one and I had no choice in the matter. Life goes on and I am thankful for each and every day!!! I could never have made it, I think without all of the ups and down's of my earlier days. I am a "SURVIVOR" and happy for each and everyday I have with my family. Some days are better than others and some not so great, but I wouldn't change anything. It has all worked out and life is what you make it.

My husband and I renewed our marriage vows several years ago, since we decided we then knew what they meant. Although, we did chuckle a little at the "for better or worse, in sickness and health," and the "richer or poorer."

We now feel we've done them all!!!!

So, that's my survivor story. Thanks for the chance to tell you. Yes, you may add my story to your page and it is all right to include my e-mail address.

Maybe I'll hear from some other survivors. The address is:Zbearlady@aol.com.

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