New Beginnings

Traditionally, Spring brings warmth and flowers and hope and new life.  The images of little lambs and warm sun and tulips bursting out from beneath the earth.  Longer days and pleasant temperatures create a sense of contentment and hope for most everyone.  The promise of summer vacations and bar-b-ques and trips to the lake or beach fill people’s minds and hold their focus.   All of these things come to create a feeling of endless opportunities and new beginnings at this time of the year.  This year’s wild weather, especially on the East Coast, has meant that Spring arrived a bit faster than normal, yet seemed quite slow to commit.

The warm, sunny days in February and March, for example, were followed by the coldest cold spells of wind and sleet and gloomy skies.  This fickle weather and change of seasons, has honestly  felt a bit like our journey with Regina.  There were early inklings of better, warmer days to come, but at no point in February were we fully ready to embrace the possibility of a new beginning, of a less harsh season.  At no point were we willing to pack away the down blankets and winter coats for fears that we would need them again.  We had been through so much and our optimism, while always present, was cautious.

It gives me indescribable pleasure to write this update and final blog post.  Our new beginnings have begun.  Caution be damned.  We are just plain optimistic.

Regina is back to her life in Colorado and her health is thriving.  She will have a long road to get to 100 percent; however, there is no longer any doubt that she can and will get there.  She is walking and climbing and balancing with ease.  She has regained the strength and function in her arms and hands.  Her hospital bills are being paid one by one and her restricted activities are being lifted.  She has a support network in Colorado that are taking care of her when help is needed.  Her sensation is returning all over her body and her endurance is building with each activity and hour that passes.  Her immobilization collar is off and her scar is getting fainter each day. Her spirit remains high, her strength – both physical and mental – remains unmatched.

The Hartman-Tolve house feels a bit empty without G here to get in our fights and add laughter to our laughs and devour episodes of Friday Night Lights and Thai food with us.  Lula still goes into the room where she stayed and is heartily disappointed to not find her  ‘Auntie G’ there.  But we are all adjusting happily and slowly back into normal routines.   Gina’s New York friends miss her already and my parents are sad to not have her closer, but again, we are all happy to have her move on, as it is a sign of her strength and possibility.

We cannot thank each of you enough for the kindness, concerns, love, prayers, donations, gifts, visits, calls, friendship, offers, referrals, and hugs.  They brought us through the darkest days so that we could get to the most appreciated new beginning of our adult lives.

Thank you for being on this journey with us.  We could not have done it without all of you.  We will never forget these last few months and will hold in our hearts forever the kindness we have received from each of you.

Obrigada + Love Always,

Ali on behalf of Regina, Anne, Bill, Andrew and our countless family members and friends

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One Month

It is amazing how life can change. And then change again…and again…and again. Just when you think you have things figured out, life goes ahead and knocks you on your ass or turns you around or points you in a different direction. Ultimately, I guess that’s why it’s worth living. If we all had endless days of the same thing, albeit joy or sadness, life would be boring and perspective would be hard to come by. So instead, our days are limited and our experiences are endless. Each moment of each day has never been and will never be again. We can’t live our lives with this level of consciousness, but when something like G’s accident happens living in each moment seems the only way to live. Often in looking back or projecting forward it is hard to realize the volatility of our days and years, but over the last month – in the trauma and triumph that has surrounded us – it feels like the only way to get through the days was with an awareness and appreciation of the fact that this second, minute, hour, emotion would pass.

It has been a month of moments. Officially. And Regina has been through more in this time period than most people feel in a decade or in a lifetime. She has struggled and succeeded. She has been pulled together and a complete mess. She has been sunburned and tan and pasty white. She has been on the edge and in the firmest of footing. She has had friends and family holding her in love and at times been completely alone. How much she has been through indeed.

After the last 30 days, I am happy to report that Regina is scheduled to be released from the hospital on Wednesday. She will have another 6-8 weeks of intensive outpatient rehab in New York and will be living with us in Brooklyn while she gains more strength and stamina. We are all thrilled. It is a milestone in this journey, a checkpoint in the race. And we have learned how important checkpoint can be in a marathon. There have been countless checkpoints, countless moments that signaled a better road ahead…

When Regina wiggled her toes, moved her arms, took her first steps on unsteady legs. When she got seen by a doctor at the public hospital, when she got transferred to the private hospital, when she came out of surgery and when she regained the stability to be moved to the US. When she began standing, walking and climbing stairs on her own. When she began laughing again. And so, leaving the hospital is another milestone, one we take with incredible gratitude and perspective. It goes without saying that Regina has exceeded even the most hopeful of expectations. She will without a doubt continue to push her limits and beat the hell out of limits put on her by others. The real work has begun and will continue in the days, weeks, months and even years ahead.

I end this as I end all posts with a thank you. Thank you to those of you who are by our sides for each milestone, each checkpoint. Indeed, the moments of our life are made to pass us by, to keep moving even when we want to hold on. But the people, not the moments are where we live. The people around us are where we build our legacies and store our memories and learn our lessons on love and kindness and cruelty and loss. In this last month, I think that we all have taken immense comfort in knowing that we are not alone. Comfort in knowing that we are on this journey with our family, our partners, our friends, with caregivers and colleagues and kind strangers. Whether individual moments or the greater arc of life, we are in it together.

What in the world could be more beautiful and permanent than that?

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Lucky…?

Luck is a funny word.  A funny concept, really.  Everyone has their favorite charms, rituals, sayings and omens to bring it on, keep it around or send it away. People think it is rooted in karma, or God, the energy of the universe or nothing at all.  No one really can define it, but everyone throws the word around constantly.  Certainly, in the last three weeks, we have been told  countless times something about luck.  You go from being told you are the luckiest person in the world to someone shaking their head questioning how could Gina be so unlucky, so unfortunate for this to happen.  All of it feels a bit off.

The more I think about it, the more I come to realize that luck has no place in this conversation–no place in Gina’s journey back to a fully functioning life. What happened in Brazil was a freak accident, a fluke, something that belongs in the realm of the uncontrollable, the unknown. And everything that has happened since has been the opposite, the product of Gina’s strength, smarts and determination, and that of her friends and family, nurses, therapists, doctors and surgeons.

For the past week Gina has continued to make amazing strides at Rusk. She is practicing walking on her own, ascending and descending stairs, biking for longer periods of time, taking care of daily primping (a hospital should not mean air-dried hair and no mascara!), and texting with all her old prowess. So impressed are her doctors with her grit, determination, and physical progress that they expect her to leave the hospital earlier than expected.  Thrilling news for everyone, but especially Regina.  They have tempered the good news with discussions and explanations of the current and future battles that are part of this new reality.

On the battle front, she is working on regaining all of her feeling, and has been told it may take quite a while for the numbness to go away while all the nerves take time to strip and regenerate.  Her walking won’t be natural for a while and she’ll need to continue to practice and stay patient.  It’ll take some time before she can take off the brace and even longer before she can try to run or jump or downdog.  She won’t ever have a full range of motion in her neck and so needs to adapt to turning her shoulders to look both ways or lifting her eyes and bending back at the waist to see above her.  She is regaining her depth perception, her balance and getting her hand eye coordination back to 100 percent.  While also helping her hands back to their needed strength by practicing with tennis balls, silly puddy and foam cubes.  Trusting the process and yourself can be hard in these moments, but Gina remains focused, forward-thinking and positive.

In concluding, as always, a special thanks to the friends and family (and strangers who have become friends) who continue to send their support and blessings.  Those that have visited her or skyped or sent cards and trinkets.  The people who have reached out to us with the kindest of gestures and those who have offered services from PT to OT to cooking to transportation to a place to for visitors to spend the night.  The people who say or do nothing at all, but who we know are there ready to spring in to action with the slightest word or gesture.  Many would say that Regina is lucky to have all of this love in her life, and I certainly wouldn’t argue with them.  But I would also, and perhaps more importantly, say that she is deserving of it.  I would say that her greatness and kindness and loyalty have created a circle of friends and family that mirror those qualities.  Your love and grace seem unending.  We are so privileged to know each of you and thank you, as always, for being with us on this journey.

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One Step at a Time

I’ve started writing this post at least three times, but each time I have stopped for some reason. Distraction, exhaustion or uncertainty have found a way to crowd in on the writing process and each time left me unable or unwilling to put words and thoughts to paper.

I think that part of it comes from the fact that these posts are no longer a lifeline, a tool, a necessity.  Gina is safe and back and in a place where she can once again communicate in a variety of different ways.  There isn’t the same anxieties or ambiguities.  There isn’t the same need for connections or the same urgency. At the same time, this journey is long from over for any of us.

So, I will write.  I will give updates and provide photos.  I will let people know of Regina’s progress and, in the process, give you all a glimpse of the tenacity and strength that G is using to face each day.

Her arrival back to the U.S. was challenging on many levels.  They unfortunately got to enjoy about 40 minutes of first class before Regina began feeling quite ill.  The 40 minutes was enough to make my Mom know that she loves first class.  As she said late on Tuesday evening, “I saw the other side and I liked it.  They had the biggest hot fudge sundaes…but we didn’t get to have any,” and she gave the saddest puppy dog eyes before continuing “Yea, it was amazing. I want to fly first class just one time, anywhere.  Just once. Do you know we got pajamas?!”  It was incredibly sweet and another first class experience is certainly owed to both her and G at some point in the next few years.

Anyway, they arrived to New York and at Rusk Institute and were met with a barrage of doctors, tests, questions and paperwork.  Regina was overwhelmed and just plain beat.  The morning was tough, but as always, she made it through the challenge.  Andrew and I met her at the hospital on Tuesday night for the sweetest and most poignant of moments as we were all reunited.  After the tenderness passed, we looked around and realized that the room just wouldn’t do.  So I went into action, getting new pieces of hospital furniture, building her collages and putting together a wish tree.  When we were done, the room felt more like Gina’s and not as institutional and impersonal as just an hour before.

We spent the night just being with each other.  Reassuring each other.  Loving each other.  And discussing, exploring, accepting our new realities for the next few weeks and months.

Gina's Inspiration Wall

Regina continues to make amazing progress, but it looks like her recovery in the hospital will be about four weeks.  In that time, they will work to make her safe and strong so that she will be able to leave their care and live a full life. She will have physical therapy, occupational therapy, art therapy, group therapy, therapy therapy and even the occasional horticultural therapy (yep, she’s super excited about this last one!).

Today was her first official day of rehab with a full schedule of the above activities.  It is very clear that rehab is work and that each day will be exhausting in its own way.  The great news of today was that Gina climbed some steps and took some steps with the help of a great machine called the LiteGait.   They are working to correct her movements and strengthen her legs by using this awesome technology that securely harnesses Regina and lets the therapists manipulate her as she moves.

She is also getting more sensations and movement in all of her limbs and able to move herself.  Though everyone yells at her to slow down and be careful.  Her teeth still need to be sorted out and her hair has yet to be properly washed (was supposed to be today, but now they promise will be tomorrow). Her sunburn is pretty much gone and has just become lots of peeling skin, which I now yell at her not to pick. I am still not happy about the sunburn!

The hospital food is ok (at best).  Her roommate is an odd enough match that I may dedicate an entire blog post to explaining the situation. The nurses are really kind.   Her team of doctors and therapists are ready to go. And Gina is planning to run the joint within the week.

If you have any questions about visiting, please let me know.  We have a schedule and some guidelines I am happy to share.  If you want information on where to send mail, again please message me and I will give you our address.  Lastly, if you want to send a delivery, she is at Rusk Institute in room 115 A.

Thank you for being with us on this journey. We are all taking each challenge and each day, one step at a time.  And we consider ourselves lucky to be able to step at all….

Love,

Us

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Safe and Sound

It is official, Regina is back on American soil. She checked in to the rehab hospital in New York around 9 am.  All told, she was traveling for more than 18 hours.  It was a long and exhausting trip with its own unique challenges, but she made it!  She is currently getting evaluated and all sorted out.  I think she is looking forward to a shower and a long nap this afternoon.  I am sure my Mom is ready for the same. Hell, we are all ready for that!

More details to come today for all those who are inquiring/following.  Thanks for the continued support and love.

Abraços + Beijos

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Fly Fast and Safe…

The last leg of G’s journey is officially underway!  Today was, believe it or not, the most stressful day since last weekend and the accident.  It seemed that complications and delays were arising from everywhere and we were up against a ticking clock.  A very loud, large, ticking clock.  We managed through the obstacles and by the power of patience, perseverance and prayers everything came together.

Dr. Antonio Bispo, who has been with Regina since last Saturday, delivered her and my mom safely to their flight about an hour ago.  They were accompanied by all forms of medical personnel and security big-wigs.  I venture to say it is a rare day that someone gets to skip customs and security leaving the Rio airport.  Yet another story for Regina to tell.

They got her in her seat, administered the last doses of medication, said their bittersweet goodbyes and my mom called the U.S. one last time from Brazil.  When I spoke to her I could hear the relief in her voice.  She sounded so joyful to be headed home.  They were ordering their dinner…and hopefully hot fudge sundaes!  Here is a picture of Gina living large (and immobilized) in first class!

It's fuzzy cause of all the fabulousness in the air!

There is a growing list of people who need to be knighted or canonized, whichever you prefer.  Unfortunately, I can’t name them all, at least not tonight, but I will give a special shout out to a few who made the ride home possible….

  • Dr. Bispo, who is by all accounts a living angel and who will forever be a part of our family.  He has blessed us all beyond words and ensured Regina was ready to make the trip.
  • I will also give a huge and well-deserved thank you to my sweet and steadfast husband, Andrew, who again today fought through the insurance nonsense and managed to deliver solutions.
  • American Airlines needs a virtual round of applause for all of their amazing assistance.  If you are so inclined please tweet them (#OperationReginaRio), facebook or email to say thank them for all that they did for G.
  • Lastly, thank you to the family friends who donated miles towards my Mom’s ticket. What a gift you gave us.
  • There were countless others who offered planes, miles, car services, advice and referrals.  Even though those offers didn’t work out, we are so grateful.
  • Plus all the prayers, wishes and donations…like I said the names are endless.

Please continue to keep Regina and my mom in your prayers, as they fly safe and fast.  My Dad arrives to New York in the morning and will meet them at the airport.  Andrew and I will see them at some point in the afternoon once there’s been some time for the initial transfers and evaluations at the rehab hospital.  For our friends in the NY area who want to visit, please let me know as we are scheduling visits so that Regina is surrounded by support when she needs it most.  For anyone who wants to send a card or package, shoot me a message on facebook and I will get you the best address.

We cannot wait to have them both back in the United States.  It will be so good to breath again…

Love + Obrigadas

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An out-STAND-ing day!

Hi all, this is Andrew, Gina’s brother-in-law. Ali’s taking a much-deserved break from posting tonight, so I thought I’d step in and give you all an update.

It’s been a busy, stressful, but ultimately great last 48 hours. As you may recall, there were some concerns on Thursday about Gina’s ability to fly home on a commercial flight. Friday she was officially cleared to fly commercially due to her speedy improvement at the hospital and with her physical therapists.

That kicked us into full gear here on the home front, where we were able to leverage connections at some of the top rehab facilities in the country, who quickly expressed interest in Gina’s case. Bill traveled down to Philadelphia and then up to New York to visit the facilities, and Friday night we set about forwarding all of Gina’s medical notes and CT scans, a task made slightly more challenging by the fact that more than a few of the notes were written in Portuguese! Nonetheless, we got all the information in, and we should hear back Monday as to which acute rehab facility Gina will enter upon her return.

We also dove into the task of securing Gina and Anne a flight home. G was cleared to fly commercially, but given the fragile nature of her injury and some of her ongoing treatment needs, the flight needed to be direct from Rio back to the States and to a city close to the rehab facility where she was destined. Not an easy task, as those of you who have flown into or out of Rio know.

Thanks to the generosity of a family friend, who lent miles needed to book Anne’s ticket, plus the compassion of American Airlines, who worked with me for several hours on the phone to get us a more affordable ticket for Gina, and the many donations of family and friends, we were able to finalize Gina’s flight home tonight. She will be traveling first class (much deserved and medically necessary) and will get home Tuesday morning. All of us are thrilled.

Down in Rio, Gina had a very positive day. She was able to wash her hair with the help of Anne and a nurse.  I was told she yelled at Anne throughout the process.  She said to Ali later in the day, “Ugh, you know Mom and hair…” She also was able to sit up for longer periods of time with less assistance, and she even managed to stand with some assistance! Here’s a picture of her with her rehab specialists.

She does still have some challenges. For instance, flexing her right ankle is a struggle, as is performing fine motor skills with her hands. Remarkably, she can text on a phone—doctors assure us this is remarkable indeed given typical C7 injuries—but she has encountered some difficulty executing other functions with her fingers, like trying to open a pack of crackers. With the proper occupational and physical therapy, we and Gina’s doctors are confident these fine motor skills will return.

Gina is in great spirits. Her voice sounds strong and upbeat; today she requested that her first meal back in the States be Thai food. Ali says she’s on it.

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to personally thank all of you for your outpouring of support. Regina’s friends and family, her colleagues at the US Olympic Committee, Ali’s friends and her colleagues at KKR, and our entire extended network have been so wonderfully generous and supportive throughout this entire process. Like all of you, I remain incredibly optimistic about the days ahead for Gina. She and I have known each other for 8 years now, and in that time I truly have come to view her as a sister. She pokes fun at me like any good younger sibling would, and I in turn am so fond of her—of her adventurous spirit, her big heart, and most of all that perfectly sarcastic wit.

I can’t wait to have her back stateside in a few short days.

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