Ep 088 -- Never Give Up with Ms. Wheelchair USA

Marsha Schmid is a stroke survivor and she's this year's Ms. Wheelchair USA. In other news, there's a growing Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant.

Marsha's had quite a journey to get there. She excelled in school, became the top salesperson in her company and she was a nationally ranked body builder. All that was before the fateful day she went to her chiropractor. The chiropractor manipulated her neck, caused a vertebral artery dissection, and that led to her massive stroke. This week Marsha share her story of recovery, the pageant, and the future she now has. She lives theme of Never Give Up.


Marsha Schmid sitting while holding her crown and wearing her Ms. Wheelchair USA sash.Marsha Schmid competed as Ms. Wheelchair Georgia USA and lives in Fayetteville, Georgia. She has a Bachelor’s in English with concentrations in Political Science and Japanese. She served as an intern to Congressman Bob Barr when he was in office, and hopes to become an international motivational speaker.

At the time of her massive brainstem stroke in 2011, Marsha was on top of the world. She was the number 1 in medical salesperson for her company. She was also a nationally ranked fitness/figure competitor about to turn pro, newly wed to Georgia's Strongest Man( Masters Division), mom to a five year old son, and recently rebaptized.

Marsha wasn't supposed to live through the night of her stroke. She did, and was paralyzed from the neck down, could not speak for a year, couldn't swallow, could not breathe on her own, and was unable to open her eyes.

Marsha took my very first completely independent step a few weeks ago, 8 years after the stroke that changed her life. In September of 2019, Marsha became Ms. Wheelchair USA. She aspires to become a motivational speaker to continue spreading the message of, "Never Give Up.".

What is a Vertebral Artery Dissection?

There are four arteries that bring blood to the brain. Two are the carotid arteries and 2 are the vertebral arteries. The left and the right side of the body have one of each.

The carotid arteries are towards the fronts of the neck. When you see someone check a pulse by putting 2 fingers on the neck, they are feeling for the pulse in the carotid artery.

The vertebral arteries are towards the back. In fact, they travel through the bones of the spinal column to get to the brain. The go through the vertebrae, hence the name vertebral.

Our arteries aren't a solid piece of artery tissue; they're made of layers of muscle, connective tissue, and other materials, kind of like the tire of a car that has hard outer rubber, and interior steel belt, and other materials holding it together so it works.

In a vertebral artery dissection, the inner lining of an artery -- the part the blood actual touches, tears a bit. The artery itself holds together. And it can hold together for months or years. But now you have high pressure blood surging past that torn or disrupted surface. That area is no longer smooth.

In that rough area, where blood flow is disrupted, bits and pieces can get stopped. When that happens, they can turn into clots. When that clot breaks free from the dissected area, it flows on into the brain until the blood vessels are too narrow for it to go any further and it stops. When it stops and blocks blood from getting past it, you have an ischemic stroke.

It's not the clot itself that damages tissue in a stroke, it's that the clot blocks blood from getting past it and tissue downstream suffocates and dies.

So how does the dissection happen? Often it's because of trauma. A sudden movement of the head beyond its normal range of motion puts stress on those arteries, and that stress can cause the internal surfaces to tear.

This happens more often to the vertebral arteries than the carotids because the carotids go through soft tissue in the neck. There's more room for them to move and shift and dissipate stress.

The vertebrals on the other hand are restricted by the bones they go through. The don't have as much flexibility to deal with stress and are more likely to tear.

That trauma can be anything that injures the neck or head. It's certainly possible in a car accident. One survivor I talked to was boogie boarding and hit the beach hard in a way that injured his neck and caused his stroke.

And I've talked with others, like Marsha, who received their vertebral artery dissection at the hands of a chiropractor doing a neck adjustment.

So don't let folks snap, pop, or twist your neck. It's just not worth it.

What is Ms. Wheelchair USA?

From the organization's website:

The Ms. Wheelchair USA program has been in existence for more than 22 years. It began as a state program, selecting winners in the state of Ohio to do a national service platform. As the program grew in popularity and was televised live, potential candidates began coming from all over the country asking to compete in the outstanding program. The program became a national competition 14 years ago and has been going and growing strong!

Contestants in the Ms. Wheelchair USA program must be 18 years of age with no maximum age! Contestants must have a mobility issue, but may have use of their legs. Our program does not discourage ability, but instead celebrates the individuality of the women in the program. State and regional representatives are selected based on a judged, application process. The national titleholder is crowned following a week of activities, programs, learning sessions, press appearances, and three nights of live stage competitions. Contestants compete in private interview, round-robin interviews, evening wear, on-stage interview, platform presentation, and marketing statement competitions. The winners spend their year on a state, regional and national level representing The Dane Foundation, Ms. Wheelchair USA, and their own platform issue or activity.

The Ms. Wheelchair USA organization promotes glamour, self-confidence, and community service; celebrating the accomplishments of women with disabilities!

Hilary Billings on 2-Minute Talk Tips

Interestingly enough, Marsha is not the first pageant winner I've interviewed. I talked with Miss Nevada, Hilary Billings on my other show, 2-Minute Talk Tips. Hilary entered her first pageant after a fireworks injury. You can hear that interview at http://2MinuteTalkTips.com/hilary.

One of the things both Marsha and Hilary talked about is how the pageants are empowering and are about so much more than just beauty.


Heart and Stroke Walk

I am Participating in Puget Sound Heart and Stroke Walk on October 12.

If you'd like to support my efforts and donate to the American Heart Association, please do. This will help the American Heart Association continue its work to help reduce stroke through research and medical standards on the white coat side and through helping folks reduce their blood pressure on the general population side.

If you'd like to contribute $10 or more, just visit http://Strokecast.com/Donate/AHA. That will take you right to the donation page on the AHA website. None of it goes to my pocket.


Hack of the Week

You can put in contact lenses with one hand.

  1. Put the lens on your middle finger.
  2. Raise your eyelid with your index finger.
  3. Place the lens close to the corner of your eye to maximize the odds of it going in as it should.

This may take a bit of practice, but it can be done. The first time you learned to put in contact lenses probably wasn't easy either.

Good vision is important for more than watching Netflix. Depending on your stroke, sharp vision can impact sensory processing, balance, and safety.

One contributing factor to delirium in the hospital is patients not having their glasses or contacts available.

Of course, before returning to contacts, be sure to check with your optometrist, ophthalmologist, or neuro-ophthalmologist.

What's that? You haven't heard of a neuro-ophthalmologist? You can learn more about the field in episode 85, where I spoke with Dr. Eugene May.


Ms. Wheelchair USA


The Dane Foundation


Enter the Pageant


Contact the Pageant


Ms. Wheelchair USA on Facebook


Ms. Wheelchair USA on Twitter


Ms. Wheelchair USA on Instagram


Ms. Wheelchair USA on YouTube


Marsha on Instagram


Marsha's Pre-Stroke  Body Building


Wes Varda and the Shephard Center


Hilary Billings on 2-Minute Talk Tips


Heart and Stroke Walk


Donate to AHA


Dr. Eugene May on Strokecast


Where do we go from here?

  • Check out Marsha's journey as Ms. Wheelchair USA by following her on social media or reaching out to the Ms. Wheelchair USA program. You can find all those links above.
  • Share this episode with someone you know -- survivor, caregiver, or medical professional by giving them the link http://Strokecast.com/MsWheelchairUSA
  • Support the Puget Sound AHA Heart and stroke walk by visiting the donation link at http://Strokecast.com/Donate/AHA
  • Don't get best…get better

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast

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