CURE NATION: Washington native Elaine Stefanowicz served as Ms. Wheelchair America in 1997. Winning the title was a life-changing experience that helped her win a full-ride scholarship to college and the 2003 Woman of Distinction Award from the Girl Scouts.
Elaine now serves on the Washington Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues & Employment as she strives to create accessibility and employment opportunities for people with disabilities across the state. We hope you’ll enjoy her journey as much as we have in sharing it with you!
Growning up in Tacoma, WA, Elaine Stefanowicz was injured at the end of her junior year in high school after getting in a car with a young man who had been drinking. The accident took place in 1982 before wearing seat belts was a big deal or even a law for that matter. The driver wrecked and Elaine was ejected. Her resulting injuries caused her to become a T-7 paraplegic.
ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: elaine asks tough questions about her future
“All I wanted to know when I was in the hospital is if I could still have a baby someday,” Elaine admits. “Even as a junior in high school, I knew I wanted to be a mom. That was the most important thing to me.”
Thankfully, her doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, WA said “Yes, of course you can.”
Elaine spent almost six months at Good Samaritan, which was common in the early 80’s, learning how to live an independent life. “I lost my friends but I had a great family support system,” she points out.
“That’s important when surviving a spinal cord injury. I did OT, PT and Rec Therapy almost every day, and we went on a lot of outings. My therapists and the other patients there, we all helped each other. We spent so much time together there that we became lifelong friends.”
Elaine believes this kind of involvement and support helped change her outlook on life after spinal cord injury for the better. “There are a lot of unhappy people walking around out there. I’d rather be a happy person,” she says.
“It was only natural for me to be a part of the Peer Counseling Program at Good Sam after I left,” Elaine shares. “A man named Dick Sage got me involved, and looking back it really began my career path in helping people who are going through the same things I did after my injury.”
Learn more about the Children’s Therapy Unit at Good Samaritan Hospital
When she was discharged, Elaine went to college, got married and had the baby she always wanted. Today, her little boy named Michael is nearly grown.
“In 1996, I was working for the University of Puget Sound when I first read something about Ms. Wheelchair America,” she details. “It was in a magazine called Paraplegia News (now known as PN Online), and once I started telling my friends about it they all said I should enter, so I applied, raised the money I needed and flew to compete in the pageant that took place in Georgia that September.”
“I figured if they like outspoken chubby brunettes then I would be a shoe-in. Since Washington didn’t have a program yet, I entered as an independent delegate.”
WINNING MS. WHEELCHAIR AMERICA
Little did Elaine know how much her decision to compete would dramatically change her life, but she was about to find out.
“I won Ms. Wheelchair America for 1997!” she exclaims. “This meant I’d be traveling all over doing public appearances and speaking engagements. It was hectic!”
“I didn’t really have a platform so I tailored my speeches to my audience. Naturally, some of them included the dangers of drunk driving. I had my son in 1999 so life didn’t slow down too much after my reign,” Elaine adds.
In 1999, shortly after Elaine had completed her MWA duties, she learned she was pregnant and her marriage was coming to an end all at the same time. Unfazed by the news, Elaine decided there was no way she was going to let these life changes stop her progress and ability to serve others too.
“My son was my motivation to go back to school,” she confirms. “I got married in 1991 and divorced eight years later. I wanted a better life for us so I knew I was going to have to work for it. Fortunately, through my accomplishments as Ms. Wheelchair America, I won a full-ride scholarship to Southern Illinois University where I got a Bachelor’s degree in Workforce Education and Development. I went on to get a Master’s degree in Human Resources.”
“It was NOT easy going to school while raising my son but I did it. We did it together.”
ELAINE’S NEW PLATFORM TO HELP PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: WASHINGTON STATE LEADERSHIP
As of 2014, Elaine has a new platform from which to speak. She was appointed to a three-year term on the Washington State Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment (GCDE). Learn more about what GCDE does here.
Initially, Elaine served on the committee but was hired last year as the program coordinator. Part of the committee’s role includes awarding funding to communities to improve accessibility, but they also host, help fund and coordinate a Youth Leadership Camp for high school juniors and seniors who have disabilities.
Elaine was one of thirteen appointees on this Washington state public service committee chosen from an applicant pool of 130.
She intends to use her new position to educate people – particularly teens – about the dangers of distracted driving.
“Now that my son drives, I want him to use me as a cautionary tale. I wasn’t drinking or driving and I still got injured by making one bad choice.”
washington state resources for people with disabilities
On the website for the GCDE committee that Elaine represents, you can find a wide variety of resources for Washington state residents who have disabilities, including college scholarship options and supporting organizations.
GCDE Resources for students with disabilities:
The abovementioned Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) is designed for students with disabilities who want to be or are leaders in their schools and communities. There is no cost to parents for their student to attend, and students do not have to be receiving services from their school districts to apply.
Eligible youth include:
- Incoming high school juniors and seniors (as of July 1, 2019);
- 2019 high school graduates; or
- Students up to age 21 who are receiving transition services from their high schools.
Use the links below to find out more about GCDE programs and learn how you can join GCDE in their efforts to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities across Washington.
You can also contact Elaine Stefanowicz by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 360-902-9362 for more information.
WHY ELAINE Stefanowicz CHOOSES A CURE CATHETER
Elaine has chosen to use Cure Medical catheters for her health regimen for nearly a decade. Several factors played into her decision when she selected an intermittent catheter for daily use.
“I’ve been using Cure catheters for as long as I can remember. I personally prefer the female catheter in 14FR, it’s called the Cure Catheter for women.”Elaine’s decision to use a Cure catheter was influenced by more than just choosing the intermittent catheter that she felt worked best for her.
“I love that the company was started by a quadriplegic. I also like that one of their missions is to help people with disabilities lead better lives through medical research and with their quality-made products,” she shares.
To request free samples of the Cure Catheter® that Elaine prefers or any other Cure Medical catheter, contact your local distributor of quality healthcare products, or click here.
Founded by a quadriplegic, Cure Medical is the only catheter manufacturer in the world that donates the first 10% of its net income to support research programs in pursuit of a cure for urinary retention, paralysis, spinal cord injury and central nervous system disorders.
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