HANAMAULU – When Jaycie Kobayashi was growing up on Kauai, her favorite activities were playing on the monkey bars with friends, riding her bike and collecting beetles.
Those memories and others are what the 22-year-old holds onto when she can’t move.
“I can’t help but miss my life, but at the same time, I don’t,” she said. “I feel like I’m in a better place in life, free from negativity and those who hurt me, surrounded by all the love and support of friends and family.”
Kobayashi can no longer do simple things like scratch her nose, comb her hair, let alone lift a fork. Her life changed the night of Oct. 10, 2013. Her recollection of what happened is hazy. Kobayashi and her boyfriend were out on the town celebrating a friend’s birthday. The partying took them to a bar in Kapaa. Pretty much everything after that point is a blur, except for the fact she wound up lying on Kuhio Highway in Kapaia, with her boyfriend frantically trying to flag down help.
The Kauai Prosecuting Attorney’s office is still scrutinizing the details of what happened.
“We are giving it all due attention,” said Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar.
According to police reports, paramedics responded about 12:25 a.m. “to a report of a single-vehicle collision that occurred on Kuhio Highway in Wailua, near Old Marine Camp Road, that resulted in injuries to a female at the scene.”
Kobayashi suffered C3 and C4 spinal injuries that paralyzed her from the shoulders down.
“I was pretty close to death,” Kobayashi remembered. “The doctors don’t understand how I made it. They said I was supposed to die.”
The 2010 Kauai High School graduate was airlifted to Queen’s Hospital on Oahu.
“I woke up on the table in the ER and saw a tube down my throat and was confused,” Kobayashi remembered.
Frightened, she began to cry.
When she awoke after surgery, she remembered being hooked up to a ventilator. Doctors advised her of the outcome.
“They told me, ‘You need to work hard to get off that vent, but you probably never will,’” Kobayashi said.
She remembers closing her eyes and making a firm commitment otherwise.
“No, I’m gonna fight,” Kobayashi said.
And she did.
For months, her doctors pushed her. Nurses cheered her on. Day after day, they encouraged her to breathe on her own. She proved them wrong and got off her ventilator two months later, just before Thanksgiving. The next step was even harder — to accept the fact she was paralyzed.
Pushing past the darkness
A year of thinking about how she lived prior to becoming paralyzed has provided some profound realizations for Kobayashi.
“It’s not fair, but this experience really showed me who I need and don’t need in my life – those who genuinely care,” she said. “The people who hurt me are completely out of my life and I don’t want anything to do with them.”
Lisa Kobayashi, Jaycie’s mother, said her daughter has done a lot of soul searching over the past year, and plans to study psychology and hopefully help peers regarding domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse.
“I know that, with this situation she’s in, she will turn it around for the positive,” Lisa said. “Everything happens for a reason. Good things are yet to come.”
But the past 12 months weren’t always so hopeful for the family and Jaycie. Chronic urinary tract infections, lack of movement, the inability of her body to regulate temperature – all adjustments for Kobayashi, but only a small part of the overwhelming inflictions on the young adult.
“I wasn’t feeling well. I was just over it,” Kobayashi said.
But being immobile wasn’t an option for her.
“I didn’t want to be bedridden the rest of my life,” Kobayashi said.
Hope came when insurance benefits kicked in last summer for a specially designed wheelchair. In July, Kobayashi traveled to Oahu to train on how to move again without the use of her legs and arms by manipulating a mouth stylus to operate the chair.
“You need technique,” Kobayashi said. “I practiced being on different terrains. I practiced being around crowded areas. I don’t have mirrors on my chair, so I had to guess when I was backing up or reversing in and out of elevators.”
Kobayashi was dealing with being in public again after being confined for six months in her father’s small living room in Hanamaulu.
“I practiced every day for two weeks,” Kobayashi recalled. “I rode the city bus. I went to the Ala Moana Center. It was nerve-racking being around a lot of people.”
With the help of her daily private nurse who bathes, clothes and feeds Kobayashi during 10-hour shifts, she moves forward with the circumstances dealt to her.
But she did it. Her determination shined through again even though memories of her old life persisted.
“Every time I look at pictures, I get sad. I miss all the good things and the good memories and all the fun,” Kobayashi said.
Jason Cabot, a Kauai native who was paralyzed in a swimming accident on Oahu prior to Kobayashi’s medical tragedy, has been one of her saving graces.
“He keeps me positive,” Kobayashi said. “I’m so thankful for him. He gives me a lot of hope. His positivity rubbed off on me and made me feel like I’m not alone. Plus, he is fun to be around.”
Cabot said he and Jaycie are in the same situation.
“We talked a lot about our friends and what we used to do and that helped a lot,” he said. “I guess I was just being myself.”
In the meantime, Kobayashi relies on her uncle or Kauai para-transit when she needs to travel to physical therapy appointments.
“It’s inconvenient trying to find a ride,” she said.
She continues to push and hope for a miracle as she commits to rehab.
“I’m getting more strength in my neck,” she explained. “I go to the Hawaii Sports and Balance Center two times a week for one hour sessions each time.”
She also exercises at home with her nurse one hour nearly every day.
“It’s tiring and gets sore,” Kobayashi said. “But no pain, no gain.”
A community fundraiser on Kauai in September helped raise more than $4,000 toward the purchase and modification of a van for Jaycie’s transportation needs.
“Her fundraiser was a huge success, but we have a long way to go to get her the specially equipped vehicle,” Lisa said. “She was overwhelmed by the love and support of the people of Kauai who came.”
About $50,000 stands between her and more independence. Lisa plans to complete a lengthy Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation application packet sent to her after the previous story about Jaycie ran in the April 7, 2014 edition of The Garden Island.
“There may be help out there to assist with her van, so I will work on getting through that,” Lisa said about the foundation dedicated to improving the lives of people with spinal chord injuries.
The experience has changed Kobayashi’s outlook on so many different things, including her previous observations of other people with disabilities.
“Before this, I’d see people in wheelchairs and think they couldn’t walk, but I didn’t know about all the other things that go with that like blood pressure changes, the threat of strokes, uncontrollable muscle spasms and not being able to go to the bathroom on their own,” Kobayashi said.
She experiences those muscle spasms herself – all day and night.
“I get them a lot. It’s pressure. It’s very irritating,” Jaycie said.
Now she sees others in wheelchairs and thinks, “They must be going through a lot, cause I can feel it now.”
Kobayashi dreams when she sleeps. Those dreams are about moving forward.
“I’m always walking in my dreams. It doesn’t make any sense at all,” Kobayashi said. “It’s strange. I never want to wake up but then I do.”
Her other dreams, when she is awake, are about family.
“I always think about having kids. I do want to have them. I can’t even imagine, but they say you can still have them. Sometimes I get discouraged and think it’s never going to happen for me, but anything’s possible.
She focuses on one life-changing pursuit.
“Getting a move on,” she said.
But occasionally, her strength wanes.
“I still have my days and then I think it could be worse,” she said.
Kobayashi questions her faith.
“Sometimes I’m impatient and wonder, ‘Why me? Why do I have to go through this?’” Kobayashi said. “I wonder if I’m being punished because sometimes I feel that way – it’s unfair.”
And yet, she believes better days are ahead. Her signature phrase, she said with conviction, is “Strong faith, strong mind.”
“I pray,” Kobayashi said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not being heard and I don’t know how to talk to him and I don’t see big changes.”
Her birthday is Oct. 23, and her mother is thinking a cook-out at the beach.
“Last year, on my birthday, I was in the hospital in rehab,” Kobayashi said. “I never thought I’d make it this far. It has made me appreciate life more because not everyone gets a second chance at life. I’m lucky to have my family and the nurses who help me every day. I feel God has plans for me. I don’t know what they are, but he kept me here for a reason.”
Lisa Ann Capozzi, a features and education reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.