Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino
Discover How to Be Your Best
Karen Fouke

Learning after a car accident.

Karen Fouke


Over 3.3 million people in the United States use a wheelchair. On November 3, 2005 at age 42, overnight, I became one of them. It’s been over three years ago since I was in a terrible car accident that left me paralyzed from the chest down, a total of 87% of my body. I am a “complete” paraplegic and am unable to walk. Originally from Minneapolis, the accident occurred when I was on a business trip in Houston, Texas. After our client visit was finished that morning, two of my colleagues and I were in a Suburban vehicle and on our way to the airport. I was seated in the backseat behind the driver when the accident occurred.

I didn’t see it coming but recall being propelled into the air and making the attempt to cover my head when the accident happened. Since I didn’t hit my head or suffer any head trauma, I was conscious throughout the ordeal and recall many details of what happened. It’s nothing short of a miracle, but my tall 5’, 11” body was ejected out of the vehicle once the vehicles collided and I landed on the highway on my back. I was unable to get up and couldn’t move my legs and knew immediately that I was paralyzed. Karen FoukeIt was a feeling like non-other as a warm stillness spread into my legs. I recall the sun shining brightly on my face and recognizing the fact that I was on the highway, praying I’d be safe from any oncoming cars. The police report confirmed that a car ran a red light going 60 mph and “t-boned” our Suburban, with full impact hitting my door behind the driver. The report said I was thrown 35 ft. By the Grace of God, I wasn’t left with any broken bones, head trauma, or gashes to my body aside from a large piece of glass stuck in my hand.

I spent 4+ months in Houston, Texas at their large medical facility for physical therapy and amongst other things, learned how to use a wheelchair. After gaining my clarity after the accident, I experienced anger and disappointment at how careless the driver was and how it impacted my life. Not once did they try to contact me to see how I was in the 4 months I was in the hospital recovering. Forgiveness came to me in my first year after I realized they call these “accidents” for a reason and knowing I can’t change what happened.

Mobility is a wonderful thing that should never be taken for granted for by able body people. Adjusting to life in a wheelchair has been challenging. Not nearly as challenging as keeping my mind on positive thoughts. It was apparent that the busier I could keep myself and the more productive I was, the better off I felt. I went back to work after only 4 months and it was good for me to be incredibly busy again and mentally stimulated, and being able to see my friends and support group from the office. Meanwhile, I learned how to balance 3 rounds of strong pills a day, for life, as the only way to combat my chronic nerve pain throughout my body. The pills won out the first few months until I could adjust. For one that never took aspirin, I now the heavy narcotic stuff, sometimes referenced on CSI:Miami! And, unlike the Lawyer accident ads on television, I was left with basically no compensation because the driver lacked insurance and any assets. There is no “pile of free dough” just because you’re a victim in an accident. But yet, I enjoy my job and have been in my company for 13 years and I’m motivated to make money. Currently, I am the Director of Operations for a company in St. Paul, MN with a team in London, England. I (still) travel to London at least twice a year and I (still) travel domestically for work and pleasure. It’s more work but I do it and it continues to be a big part of my life because I love seeing other countries and their people, architecture, interests, etc! It puts life in perspective when you travel.

Now, the good news is, I learned how to drive during my first year following the accident and that opened the door to freedom, and independence and the ability to enjoy life again.

londonI’ve learned to enjoy every step you have and every moment God gives you. What you have physically and mentally can be gone in a second and to live with tenacity, forgiveness and integrity. Walking and mobility is a true gift and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Be responsible for your actions and the world is a better, more compassionate place. Lastly, the power of a positive human spirit is amazing and has endless possibilities!

I am currently working on setting up a website that can be an outreach area for other people in wheelchairs that are disabled. I’ve considered having web cast and provide information and direction to others that need help. Ideally, I’d like to travel around and help others and share what I’ve learned with others. I look forward to this opportunity!