Paige Anderson
Paige Anderson, 17, of rural Marble, (pictured with pup, Harley) is making the most of a life changed forever by a car accident that killed her best friend. A community campaign, led by friend and fellow quadriplegic Myrna Peterson, is raising funds to purchase a handicap-accessible van for Paige. A dinner fundraiser is planned for Saturday, April 30.

Like any teen girl, her closet is full of the latest styles, her sink is littered with hair products, her lips are painted a pretty pastel. She loves everything pink, likes to hang out with friends and she moves at one speed - fast.

The only thing that sets Paige Anderson apart from other 17 year-olds is her wheelchair and the challenges she faces as a young quadriplegic.

On Oct. 9, 2009, Paige was in the backseat of a car that struck a school bus in Coleraine. The impact crushed Paige's spine in two places and caused a number of tremendous internal injuries. She was air lifted to St. Luke's in Duluth where doctors gave her a five percent chance of surviving. Paige's best friend and Greenway High School classmate, Emmy Foss, died in the accident.

Put on life support, then into a medically-induced coma, Paige would eventually stabilize before she would undergo her first surgery (of about ten total) when rods and pins were placed on her spinal cord.

On Dec. 1, 2009, Paige went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to start physical and occupational therapy. Working from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily, Paige practiced standing, sitting, peddling and rolling exercises to improve her mobility.

"It was pretty intense," she remembers.

By spring, Paige and her family were back home near Marble and found a therapy program at Grand Itasca. This is when Paige met fellow quadriplegic Myrna Peterson of Grand Rapids.

Although more than 40 years separate them and the dates of their accidents are nearly 15 years apart, the two quickly became friends - sparked by the invitation to race wheelchairs across the hospital parking lot.

Despite the extreme pain both have experienced as victims of tragic events - both Paige and Myrna are cheerful and pleasant with friendly smiles that reveal grace and kindness. Determined to make the most of the life they've been given, Paige is following Myrna's lead toward a productive, fulfilling future.

"She's a mentor," said Paige of Myrna. "She's helped me out a lot. And she's funny; she's just the best."

What Myrna has inspired in Paige with encouragement and support, Paige has reciprocated with positive aspiration to flourish rather than succumb to resentment. For this reason, Myrna decided to start a campaign to Make Paige Mobile to raise funds to purchase a dependable handicap-accessible minivan for Paige's transportation needs.

Paige and her mother, Teri Dubovich, talked about what this special community effort means to their family during a quiet afternoon at their home on Twin Lake earlier this month.

While "she definitely has her ups and downs," says Teri of her daughter, Paige shrugged and explained with a smirk that she's learned, "you might as well be happy because you're stuck either way."

Life has certainly changed dramatically for the outgoing, spunky teenager. Since returning to school this year, Paige must get up at 5 a.m. everyday to get herself ready and into her wheelchair and the family's van to get to GHS. She said classmates have been helpful when she needs a door opened or to pick things up for her and a para is there with her throughout the day. Last quarter, Paige made the ‘A' honor-roll - an accomplishment Myrna is especially proud of.

Aside from school, Paige is often homebound. Her personal care attendant visits to assist her with homework and keep her company - but she's still a teenager with a desire to be with her friends.

"I wish I could just walk out of the house and jump in the car and go but, instead, I have to call someone to drive me and then carry me in because not every house has a ramp."

To accommodate for Paige's needs, her family constructed a large addition to their home that features a covered ramp and separate door leading to a large bedroom designed especially for Paige. The envy of any young girl (yet necessary for Paige), her room includes a huge bathroom with handicap-accessible shower, sink and enough counter space for loads of make-up as well as a wheel-in closet with racks and drawers that Paige can reach. A bed with lift is the centerpiece of the room - which is decorated in bright turquoise feathers and ruffles. And there's even a pull-out couch for sleepovers.

All of the additions were "incredibly expensive," says Teri.

With these added costs, plus mounting medical expenses, Paige's family makes do with a 1992 Ford Econoline handicap van that is not very dependable. So Paige has relied on people like Myrna and her cousin, Chad Parks - also a quadriplegic who lives near by, to borrow vehicles to get to appointments and special speaking engagements across the Iron Range where Paige addresses high schools on the dangers of distracted driving.

"My van would never make it," she says.

Besides these important appearances, Paige's travel is quite limited. As for simple dates with friends, she's restricted to few options.

"Sure, my friends can come out here, but there's nothing to do," said Paige with words of a typical teenager.

"She's at that age that she wants to do things," added Teri.

Paige had just turned 16, two days before the fateful accident that paralyzed her. The prospect of brand new wheels is something all kids dream about. For Paige, it would open her entire world to new opportunities.

The goal of Make Paige Mobile is approximately $50,000 which is the estimated cost of a new handicap van with remote control door and ramp. Such a vehicle could also accommodate her wheelchair locking it into the driver's position with hand controls similar to those on her chair.

There is an obvious excitement in Paige's voice when she explains the process she would go through to get her driver's license through the Courage Center.

For now, Paige grins and giggles as she demonstrates the various speeds of her hot pink power wheelchair, "I've got it on full speed - always!"

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