Step-by-step, Columbia City’s Alissa Jagger reached her first goal after being paralyzed

Columbia City senior Alissa Jagger walks across the stage at graduation on Friday night. (Courtesy photo)
From left, the Jagger family, Amy, Chad, Alissa and Cam. (Courtesy photo)
What the Jagger family vehicle looked like after a crash July 17, 2015 in Beckley, W.V. (Courtesy photo)
The family gathering around Alissa's hospital bed after surgery in Charleston, W.V. to stabilize her spine. (Courtesy photo)

COLUMBIA CITY — Ever seen the Christian poem “Footsteps in the Sand?”

It starts with the verse:

“As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.

Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.

For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,

One belonging to me and one to my Lord.”

The next two verses talk about the toughest times during the person’s life and then they notice only one set of footprints in the sand. The fourth and final verse concludes:

“He whispered, My precious child, I love you and will never leave you

Never, ever, during your trials and testings.

When you saw only one set of footprints,

It was then that I carried you.”

She may not have realized it as she walked across the stage Friday night to receive her Columbia City High School diploma, but Alissa Jagger probably would have found one set of footprints if she had taken the time to look down. Instead, she was only looking ahead as her smile showed her joy and expressed the completion of her three-year goal.

During a July 17, 2015, auto accident in Beckley, W.V., Jagger suffered the worst injuries of her four family members, a dislocated spine, that paralyzed her from the waist down. Doctors never told her she wouldn’t walk, but the damage was so complete there was nothing to suggest a hint of hope to even discuss.

But Jagger never gave up her determination to walk, or her faith to lead her. Sure, medical science may say it was impossible, but…

“God doesn’t give you stipulations about when you should live for Him, like if you have a spinal cord injury, or you aren’t feeling well or if you have cancer then you don’t have to be joyful or live with the fruits of the spirit,” she said. “There’s no stipulation on that, whatever happens in your life, too bad, you still have to praise God.”

In fact, there are a few dozen examples along her three-year journey to graduation where Jagger and her family can point to what they say was God’s guiding hand. Minutes after a car turned into their lane to make an illegal U-turn while they were driving 76 MPH on their way to a vacation in Virginia Beach, Va., the miracles started happening.

The accident was so bad, Jagger’s dazed brother Cam asked his father Chad if this was a dream, but somehow they all survived — a statistical impossibility — as did the other car’s three passengers. Two EMTs were driving by and stopped to help, including one with the name John Meracle who had retired to become an actor.

While the Jaggers recuperated in Charleston, W.V., the Columbia City community rallied with gifts — such as 29 blankets – and visits, constant encouragement and even private plane rides. Everyone kept praying. There may not have been the money for everything, but someone was always there to help with a donation or time. A woman from North Carolina saw Amy Jagger struggling to walk to the laundry room and insisted she’d handle it. Long after the insurance company informed the family the payments were ending, they found ways to persevere.

“There are so many ways God was there to help us with things,” Chad said.

A former excellent cross country runner, her family believes Alissa is so mentally tough (what they really mean is bull-headed) that when she needed to use special toothpaste the joke was, “Well, at least you are sensitive about something.” It’s not that she is especially blunt or unfeeling, but she’s straight-forward in her beliefs, expectations and understanding of her capabilities. She holds a lot of her emotions inside as fuel, continually demands more of herself and always keeps driving until accomplishing her goal.

Video courtesy of WANE, Channel 15

She never gave up on walking at graduation. It wouldn’t be a normal walk, but it would be going across the stage on her feet in some form.

“I didn’t quite understand everything that was wrong with me,” she said. “I said everything else in life depends on how hard you are willing to work at it, so I thought I’d be walking eventually. This shouldn’t be a big deal, I’ll be back in no time.”

The surgery to stabilize her back took seven hours, required a plate, two steel rods and 12 screws. She recovered in Charleston for 10 days before transferring to Shepherd Center in Atlanta where she learned to use her new body and a wheelchair. On June 16, 2016, with the help of braces, a walker, a safety belt and a therapist, she stood for the first time. After that, every day off from school was spent in a Chicago clinic pushing for more.

She’s been working three years with the goal of walking to receive her diploma, but the culmination wasn’t about how far Jagger has come but more about where she plans to go.

“I try to look into the future,” she said. “I think that’s the only way you can keep your sanity in a situation like this. If you only look back at the past, you can’t change that. You can’t change the future if all you are doing is looking back. The community is still with me three years later, and they will care about me and what’s going to happen. They haven’t given up on me.”

Jagger said she really didn’t expect anything during her walk across the stage because the audience was asked to hold their applause until the end, but everyone started clapping before Jagger stood from her wheelchair, and eventually, everyone in the gym was standing. The applause lasted for more than a minute.

Even Miss Bull-headed (oops, we mean mentally strong) almost started crying, overwhelmed by the goodness of the community and all the people who continue pulling for her.

“It freaks people out because when she takes a step, she can’t feel her foot hitting the ground,” her mother said. “It’s literally a step of faith every time she walks.”

There are still people who doubt and ask if she can actually walk. Some others wonder if she just wanted the attention. They didn’t get to see the leg braces under her robe or pay much attention to the walker she used.

There are also others who say they still believe someday she’ll walk without the braces or the walker. Right now, she’s focusing on attending Grace College and double majoring in finance and communications. She doesn’t know that she’ll walk again, but she also doesn’t know that she won’t. That part isn’t up to her.

“That’s another reason I have to stay in shape,” she said. “For me, it’s about showing the Lord’s goodness as much as I can, Him through me. It’s kind of crazy to think of all the ways God has worked in my life through all of this, all these opportunities I would not have had if I had been able-bodied, all of those chances God opened up for me and my family.

“People don’t need to be afraid. I’m fine. It’s all good, and I’m proving it’s OK. There’s a plan, and it’s not all over for me. I can live a productive life, and your body is just a home for your soul, and that’s what matters most.”

There will still be more challenges, but Jagger and her family are ready for them. This story doesn’t end with her walking across the graduation stage.

“So many people told us, `God’s not going to give you more than you can handle,” Amy Jagger said. “That’s not true. It’s not Biblical. God does give you more than you can handle because if I think I can handle it, I’ll try to do it all by myself.”

But maybe the real message is that they actually can handle anything, but only with God’s help, even a long walk across the sand.

To read more about Alissa’s progress, follow Amy Jagger’s blog at Squirrelchat.com.


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