Editor’s Note: We met Michelle DeMont and her mother Elaine Gomez at the recent Women in Pain Conference in Los Angeles. Their story about fighting back from disability, chronic pain, near death is inspirational and they agreed to share it in an interview with the National Pain Report.
“In the blink of an eye, your life can change.”
For Michelle DeMont of Culver City, California, her life changed in 1998 when the college student was struck by a car going 30 miles per hour in a parking lot.
She nearly died that day, and a few days since.
17 years later—thanks in great part to her personal strength and an unyielding love from her mother—Michelle DeMont has survived numerous surgeries, heart issues, and severe chronic pain, has earned both an undergraduate and Master’s Degree and has started a non-profit organization.
Michelle’s survival could not have occurred had it not been for her mother, Elaine Gomez. You’ve heard about people giving up everything for their child?
Elaine Gomez did just that.
“I willingly gave up my life for my daughter,” she told us.
She had a successful business as an escrow officer and was married and had two other children from her husband’s previous marriage.
The business and the marriage are now gone.
That’s because Elaine is first (and always) a mother. She had a daughter who was so severely injured after the accident that Michele’s cognitive skills were damaged. In fact, she had to learn how to read all over again—and because of the damage she had to learn to read differently.
“My mom told me it was mind over matter and that we could do it,” said Michelle. “My life was spared for a reason and I had to try each day to improve.”
Elaine’s fierce determination was noted by Michelle’s doctors right away.
After the accident when the doctor told her that Michelle would only have about 40% function of her brain, Elaine’s reaction was terse and pointed.
“I don’t think so,” she told the doctor. And she went to work re-teaching her daughter how to think, talk, and walk.
“Caregiving is very hard on the caregiver and the whole family,” she said. “But I knew then and believe now that my child is more important to me than anything.”
Her husband thought what many others probably did. Michelle was so injured that she should be in a nursing home.
“My husband didn’t like the fact that I was devoting all of my time to my daughter,” she said. Apparently his children didn’t want anything to do with Michelle.
“They were embarrassed,” Elaine remembered.
So soon it was just the two of them.
Michelle went back to school in a disabled students program that her mother found. She earned her Associate of Arts from College of the Canyons, her undergraduate degree from Cal State San Marcos and a Master’s degree from Cal State Northridge.
Not bad for a woman who many thought couldn’t function normally.
The journey was difficult. There were dozens of surgeries, she developed cardiac arrhythmia and in fact, coded on the operating table while undergoing a cardiac ablation. She was gone for eleven minutes which caused further brain damage. She also had a hip replacement in 2012, has had four surgeries on her jaw and suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, CRPS and fibromyalgia.
“If I’m stressed, my fibro flares,” she said while acknowledging that the drug Savella gives her relief. Speaking of medication, she takes daily medication for her heart, her pain and anxiety.
Her mother not only helped Michelle but actually has helped other disabled students. Starting at College of the Canyons, Elaine would pressure school officials to maximize and activate programs that exist to help students like Michelle.
Elaine, as you probably have figured, knows how to get things done.
“I just put myself into task mode.”
These two women are inspirational to each other and to others.
They have started a non-profit called Soul Fighter Foundation that strives to meet the needs of the disabled community through education, guidance and understanding—or to put it another way—they want to keep doing for others what Elaine did for Michelle.
The two of them are giving back.
Michelle has been in a long-term relationship with a man for the past six and a half years.
“It helps,” she says,” I don’t feel unlovable or like damaged goods.”
Elaine is single.
“It’s hard to have a life,” she said frankly. “But I have family and friends and we have lots of fun. I also am happy that what I believed during those darkest days came true, that Michelle can get better.”
This reporter met these two by chance at the recent Women in Pain Conference in Los Angeles. I asked them how they were able to do all that they’ve done since that terrible day in 1998.
Elaine put it best:
“When I’m down, she’s up. When I’m up, she’s down.”
It has worked for them and soon, thanks to the work they plan to do with Soul Fighter, it can also work for others.