Surviving and Thriving with Paula Franetti

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After A Near-Fatal Car Crash, NSG Athlete Helps Others on Their Road to Recovery

It was 2016. 60-year-old Paula Franetti was driving through an intersection on her way to work. In an instant her life changed. Blindsided by an oncoming car, the impact nearly folded Paula’s car in two and she was sandwiched between sheet metal. She suffered catastrophic injuries: seven pelvic and five spinal fractures. She had internal bleeding, a ruptured bladder, a ruptured diaphragm, a collapsed lung, a concussion, and on and on and on. Medical personnel didn’t know whether she would survive.

But survive she did. It took five surgeries and multiple procedures, months in a wheelchair, and a lot of hard physical and mental work, along with support from family, friends and the medical community. But mostly it took the commitment to herself. The doctors would put her body back together, but they offered no guarantees.

“I think the most challenging part for most people is that they want to depend on the physical therapist, the surgeon, the PCPs, somebody else to make them well again,” Franetti said. “And that’s not their job. Our job is to be the owner of our body, to keep our bodies functioning to whatever capacity we can reach and to enjoy it in the way that expresses who we are.

“I decided that if anything, I just want to get well again. I didn’t know where that was going to take me, but I knew that I wanted to feel like my old self, however that was going to play out.”

Her recovery was gradual. First, she transitioned from lying in an ICU bed to sitting in a wheelchair. After 57 days, Paula could finally stand. Confined to a walker, fractures in her right pelvis and injuries to her left knee made mobility difficult. For every step forward, there seemed to be one backwards. “That’s where you realize that you have to keep going,” said Franetti. “You can’t stop and you can’t let those little setbacks hold you back because they’re just another challenge.”

As a former cardiac rehab specialist Franetti knew intellectually what it would take for her body to rebound. As a former Penn State basketball player who began competing in the National Senior Games in 2007, she could also lean on the discipline, focus and patience she’d utilized in athletics. Both her mental and physical challenges were great, but Franetti moved forward with the help of her team — family and friends that physically supported and emotionally encouraged her along the way.

Part of Franetti’s post-recovery mission was to use all she learned to help others reach their desired outcomes following traumatic events. Three years after the life- altering accident she created the Rebound Planner, a health coaching business to support those recovering from accidents, injuries or surgeries reach their fullest potential.

“I’ve been through probably the most catastrophic thing I’ve ever experienced in my life and it can’t get any worse than that,” said Paula. “I want to live life to its very fullest from here on out. I don’t know how many more years it’s going to be, but I have a deeper appreciation for who I am and what I’ve been able to achieve and how meaningful life is now.

“That’s what I think I see all the time at the Senior Games, the sparkle in people’s eyes of being there, and meeting those 80, 90, 100-year-old people who are still competing and still living life to its fullest,” Franetti added. “That’s my takeaway: use whatever is happening in your life to teach you how to make the most of life, so that you can be everything that you were created to be and meant to achieve in this lifetime.”

This article is featured in the Summer 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.

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