Darlene “DL” Christie vividly remembers the morning her life changed. It was another beautiful South Florida day in the summer of 1998, and she was eager to kick off her morning with her favorite routine: a workout at the gym.
But something was terrifyingly wrong. Lying in bed, she realized she couldn’t move her legs. She called for her son, Kwame, to get help. Medical testing soon revealed that Christie had multiple sclerosis (MS), and the degenerative central nervous system disease had caused paralysis.
“I couldn’t move anything,” says Christie, who’s now 62. “It was so scary, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘There’s no way this is happening to me.’”
Doctors said she would likely be bedridden for the rest of her life, but she wasn’t ready to accept that. “When my doctor said I would be bedridden, I said, ‘By the grace of God, I can’t accept that,’” she says.
Within a year, she was walking again, first with a walker and then with a cane. For another decade, Darlene walked and continued to live life on her terms. She went back to school and changed careers from paralegal to working as a counselor for juvenile offenders.
Then, in 2009, a routine kidney stone removal procedure turned life threatening due to complications from MS. She spent weeks on life support, and several times during two surgeries, she says she was revived from near-certain death.
But she survived. More than that, she thrived.
Although she’s paralyzed from the waist down and can no longer walk (she can feel her legs but can’t lift them), her deep spirituality, newfound passion for writing, and drive to stay healthy and fit propel her forward to this day.
As she recovered at home from her extended hospitalization, what began as a therapeutic urge to simply write down her hopes, fears, and dreams evolved into something bigger. Over the coming years she published two books, completed a third, and continues to write about topics ranging from spirituality to self-help, all based on the lessons she’s learned.
“Instead of having a pity party, I got busy,” says Christie. “I sat in front of the computer and just wrote. It was just writing at first, but then I decided to write a novel. Because why not? It was what I felt in my spirit.”
At Universal Truth Center in Miami, the center of Christie’s spiritual community, she shares prayers and meditates with fellow congregants seven days a week—though these days, it’s via video conference due toCOVID-19.
“I keep a positive attitude,” she says. “I was like ‘OK, this happened, God blessed me to live through it, so what’s next?’ I take each day to live in the moment and not worry about what happened. I try to live by his agenda every day.”
Christie is now wheelchair bound, but that doesn’t stop her from living independently, making friends, and cooking healthy foods (salads with grilled chicken and crab cakes are two favorites). She really enjoys the SilverSneakers fitness classes she takes five times per week, which is one of the benefits of her Humana Medicare Advantage plan. Darlene now attends these classes online, although she started off by taking them in person at her local Conviva Care Center in Miramar, Florida.
Her love of fitness—she’s particularly fond of Zumba upper body workouts—has led to at least one new close friendship. She recently invited Kelley, her neighbor without a computer, to join her for a SilverSneakers online class, and it’s become something of a daily bonding experience. Although it took a little adjusting, they both wear masks and maintain six feet of distance while enjoying each other’s company and a good workout. As an added bonus, Christie says she’s earned $150 in rewards from her Humana plan for certain actions she takes to maintain her health.
Because of her commitment to fitness and friendship, she was recently named a finalist for the SilverSneakers Richard L. Swanson Inspiration Award. The prestigious award is granted annually to older adults who have improved their lives through a healthy lifestyle that incorporates fitness and social interaction while also helping others navigate their own fitness journeys.
“Despite everything, I’ve learned to wake up every day and live in the moment. Be happy you woke up on top of the dirt instead of under it,” says Christie. “My big life lesson is that you will grow through it, not just go through it.”