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News FROM TRAUMA SURVIVOR TO ADVOCATE: THE AMBER WARD STORY

At MCB, we recognize the achievements of the people we serve. The stories here celebrate individuals who strive to live independently in order to give back to their families, friends, community, and world.
2/01/2021
  • Massachusetts Commission for the Blind
Amber Ward of Springfield sitting on a rock in an outdoor garden

Amber, 26 of Springfield, remembers picking up her cap and gown in the morning and looking forward to graduation from Springfield Technical Community College in just a few days. Though she wasn’t sure where her liberal arts degree would take her, Amber never imagined she would miss her own graduation. Later that night, in the wee hours of May 25, 2019, her life would change forever.

“I was always a person who was doing well for myself, going to school, working, driving and just always wanting better for myself,” said Amber. Little did I know this traumatic event would change the entire trajectory of my life.”

That night, while riding in a car, Amber was caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting.

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Amber.

A bullet entered Amber’s left shoulder, traveled through her lung, and pierced her heart, where it still remains today.

Though Amber doesn’t remember much about the events of that night, an ambulance rushed her to Baystate Medical Center, where she was put on life support and placed in the intensive care unit. Doctors performed four life-saving surgeries, which required a feeding tube as well as a tracheotomy.

“Not only had I been shot, I also suffered a stroke, fluid in the brain, deprivation of oxygen in my brain, a blood clot, and pneumonia,” said Amber. “My heart stopped a few times and I had to be resuscitated. The doctors believed I would not make it through the night.”

The doctors told Amber’s worried parents that if she did survive, they should consider placing Amber in a long-term nursing home since she would likely be in a quadriplegic and vegetative state for the rest of her life.

“We went through a wave of emotions,” said Amber’s parents James and Ava Ward. “We were in shock and disbelief that it even happened in the first place. We stood by Amber around the clock during the whole ordeal. Even though her survival rate was stated to us as being very low, the whole hospital staff was very compassionate while bending over backwards to provide for her needs.”

As Amber’s condition improved, she could only communicate by blinking her eyes. Once she could speak, Amber asked her dad for her glasses since everything looked blurry. Before the accident Amber only wore glasses and contacts for reading and driving.

However, after the accident, Amber remembers saying to her dad, “I can’t see. I need my glasses. I can’t see that well.” James Ward replied, “You are wearing your glasses!”

Amber Ward in hospital bed with friends on either side. Photo courtesy of Amber Ward.
Amber in hospital bed with friends on either side. Photo courtesy of Amber Ward.

Doctors discovered that, due to nerve damage, Amber’s eyesight was negatively affected by her medical trauma. The doctors didn’t know if her eye sight would improve over time and offered little information about how to adapt. Later, Amber learned that she was diagnosed as legally blind.

“I was very upset at the beginning,” Amber said. “When I heard the word blind, I thought it was completely blind. I didn’t realize there are all different kinds of blindness. I went through the whole rehab not knowing what was going on with my vision. I wish there were more things for people with lower vision to help them in that situation.”

It wasn’t until several weeks later when she transferred to the Gaylord Rehabilitation  Center in Wallingsford, CT that a therapist suggested she seek help from Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB).

Amber’s parents remembered, “We began to feel more at ease about her overall health when she was able to be transferred to Gaylord Rehabilitation hospital. We watched her regain her strength as she had to relearn how to use her arms and legs again. Throughout the whole ordeal, we have been proud of our daughter for being strong, resilient, and confident in getting back to the point where she is now.”

Amber Ward in a wheelchair outdoors with her parents James and Ava Ward.
Amber Ward and her parents James and Ava Ward. Photo courtesy of Amber Ward.

After eight weeks in the rehabilitation center, Amber was released to go home. Though she is proud to be doing much better, she still experiences challenges due to blindness and weakness in her left hand.  

Amber registered with MCB where she was assigned to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Counselor Brianna Guimond to assess her needs and learn new skills, including assistive technology. Brianna said she was impressed with Amber’s positive energy and personality.

“From the first day we met, Amber has been nothing but positive and motivated,” said Brianna.  “Over our time together, I have sometimes had to challenge her to think outside the box or work on something that could be difficult. Each time she agrees and does it with a smile on her face.”

Amber received orientation and mobility (O&M) training before the pandemic, which included a few white cane lessons in unfamiliar environments. She also received access and training on new assistive technology.

 “I had to get a new phone. They (MCB) taught me about ZoomText and voiceover,” said Amber, who received much of her training over the phone due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “They got me magnifiers. They got me an iPad since I like to make YouTube videos about my journey. I was able to see clearly, thanks to that technology."

Amber Ward working in a hospital room on her Vision Board
”Amber’s Vision Board” Photo courtesy of Amber Ward.

Amber’s friends were also a big support during her recovery. One weekend they showed up with a big white piece of cardboard, paper letters, stickers, markers, and other decorations. They encouraged Amber to create a vision board (photo above) to imagine her future life and goals. When family and friends came to visit Amber at the hospital, they each wrote short heart-felt messages on her vision board.

“My friends wanted me to remember that that time in my life was only a bump in the road and listing my future would help me and my journey to recovery,” said Amber. “I wrote places I wanted to travel to, goals for the next 1 to 5 years, and the first thing I wanted to do when I got out of rehab. I still have this vision board--it still means so much to me.”

Looking to the future, Amber says she hopes to become a motivational speaker and inspire other people with her story.

“This experience has shaped my life and given me a passion for public speaking,” said Amber. “I want to bring more awareness to gun violence and the effects of it. I also want to inspire others who may be going through other traumatic experiences by giving them a sense of hope through my incredible story.”

Before the pandemic, Amber shared her story with middle school students and received positive feedback on the presentation. She’s working with her mom and MCB VR Counselor Brianna Guimond to arrange speaking engagements with patients at the Baystate Medical Center and the Gaylord Rehabilitation Center as soon as the pandemic is over.

Because of her experience, Amber has a new purpose in life—to share her story, give hope to other trauma survivors, spread knowledge about the effects of gun violence, and encourage other young people, especially middle and high school students, to make the right decisions in life.

“I am really fortunate I am able to be given another opportunity in life, and spread awareness and hope through my story,” said Amber.

During her recovery, she found strength from the stories of other survivors who shared their experiences on YouTube. Inspired by their stories, Amber decided to share her own life-changing story on her YouTube channel, “Authentically Amber.”

“I’ve overcome so many obstacles where I was told I wouldn’t be able to, and I did! I know I am so much stronger than any obstacle that comes my way and that has helped mold me into the young woman I am today,” said Amber. “I want to thank all of the staff at Baystate, Gaylord, Springfield Rehabilitation, and the Massachusetts Commission for The Blind for helping me throughout my journey.”

Listen to an audio reading of Amber's story provided by our partners at the Audible Local Ledger, part of the Massachusetts Audio Information Network - your MAIN source for accessible Community News and Information: http://www.audiblelocalledger.org/mcbinfo.html

Massachusetts Commission for the Blind 

MCB provides the highest quality rehabilitation and social services to Massachusetts residents who are blind, leading to their independence and full community participation.
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