“There are numerous things life throws in our direction. Things which bring us glee. Things which bring us hardship. Things which bring us hope. The best way to approach these things is by having a positive attitude.”
That’s how Jessica Wegrzynowski starts her début novel, My Spring Fling: Young Love and Living Life to the Fullest, a 12-chapter junior adult book that follows two fictional teens — one of them disabled.
Released last month and now available through Amazon, the publication took the Coquitlam author “a very long time to write” as she, too, is disabled; however, she credits her parents, her sister and Michael Coss — the author of The Courage to Come Back: Triumph Over TBI - A Story of Hope — for helping her reach her writing dream.
Wegrzynowski’s journey started at the age of 14, when she was a Grade 8 student at Summit middle school in Coquitlam. At that time, her mother Margret said, Wegrzynowski led a healthy, active life that included snowboarding. She was also very creative, putting on theatrical plays and writing poetry, her mom said.
But then she started to get headaches. And she got dizzy. Soon, she had problems eating and walking.
On Father’s Day in 2003 — after she couldn’t breathe properly — her parents rushed her to Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody. After an MRI scan showed a tumour in her brain stem, she was admitted to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
“She was given six months to live,” Margret said. “It was a death sentence.”
Still, Wegrzynowski rallied through the brain surgery on Oct. 31 as well as the subsequent radiation, occupational therapy and physiotherapy treatments — so much so that she not only graduated from Heritage Woods secondary in Port Moody but also made its honour roll.
By the start of her first year at Douglas College, where she enrolled in creative writing, Wegrzynowski had Bell’s palsy on the left side of her face and she was moving around on a walker.
It seemed she was on the path to recovery.
But a month after her 19th birthday, in February 2008, Wegrzynowski suffered another setback.
Margret remembers the day well: As her youngest daughter was getting ready for school in their Westwood Plateau home, Margret served her Cheerios for breakfast and watched as the right side of Wegrzynowski’s face started to droop.
“I thought, ‘Here we go again,’” Margret said.
This time, though, the impact of Wegrzynowski’s second brain hemorrhage was devastating.
She was too old to be admitted to BC Children’s Hospital so the family took Wegrzynowski to Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.
And during that surgery, she had a stroke that left her paralyzed for months.
“I slept in the hospital,” Margret said. “I never left her side. The doctor told me to go home but I couldn’t.”
From April to September, Wegrzynowski rehabilitated at G.F. Strong in Vancouver and returned home once. But, during that short visit, she had to stay in the basement because her father wasn’t able to carry her limp body up the stairs.
By the fall, the Wegrzynowskis realized their lives had to change and, the next spring, they moved to a townhouse on Burke Mountain and installed a stair lift. Margret also stayed at home to help her wheelchair-bound daughter.
Together, they attend many appointments including monthly visits with the Tri-Cities Brain Injury Support Group, the organization that sparked her to write the novel.
“I saw a lot of disabled people there on antidepressants,” Wegrzynowski remembered. “I thought, ‘How are you living your life like that? You have got to live your life to the fullest. Life will always go on. This is just a bump in the road.’”
Over the course of eight years, Wegrzynowski composed a fictional story on her computer, writing about characters Angela Davidson, a 17-year-old high school student in Grade 11, and her love interest, Joel Harris, an 18-year-old college student in a wheelchair.
She also tapped Pitt Meadows artist Thomas Cetnarowski to illustrate the cover, showing Joel in the driver’s seat of a car on an evening date, under a starry sky.
Wegrzynowski handled all the publishing details on her own, Margret said.
Wegrzynowski said the book is geared for teens but it also has an uplifting message to anyone facing physical and/or mental barriers: Life goes on so dream big.
Her book is also timely given the global pandemic when many teens are struggling at home, Margret said. “I think, ‘Slow down. Take this time to be with your family, and enjoy every moment of being together because you never know what can happen.’”