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The power of positive thinking

Apr 15, 2019
by Lauren Piskothy, '20

Nearly two years ago, Professor Michael Insalaca was paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident in Atlanta. He had to learn how to function in a wheel chair, learning wheelies and how to jump up on curbs; this had become his new normal. Still, he strived to become stronger every day. Now he is walking on the Flagler campus, his second semester back since the accident and has set new goals for his recovery.

“I have been working hard and still making progress. I am still unable to run, jump, squat, or climb stairs without using a rail, but those are goals that I hope to eventually achieve.”

For him, bouncing back wasn’t about looking to motivational quotes for inspiration but was about putting one foot in front of the other. His determination was based on his need to recover to the fullest extent possible. 

Of the patients with his type of injuries, he was one of the fastest to complete the rehab program. With practicality in mind, initial motivation stemmed from what his insurance would pay for; but his determination to be self-sufficient fueled his perseverance to progress in such a short time span. After he left the program, he moved in with his family to continue the rest of his recovery. He was hopeful for the future progress he would make and accepting of the progress he had already made.

“You have to get use to your new reality, things change. One thing that kept me thinking positively was seeing the progress I made. I still see myself getting stronger and stronger. Only one in several thousand make a full recovery but I’m going to try as much as I can. It’s only been 16 months, early still for this kind of injury.”

Michael was determined to do as much as he possibly could for himself, even telling his family, “I’m doing everything on my own.”

Not only was he driven to do things for himself, but he also wanted to learn as much as he could about the nature of his injuries.

“All this time I was doing as much research as possible. Spent hours a day reading medical journal articles, physical therapy textbooks, because I wanted to see how I could best help myself.”

Through this life-altering experience, he never once felt hopeless. He knew that if he spent time harping on the things he could no longer do, it would be counter-productive to his potential for growth).

“Instead of focusing on what I could no longer do, that I did in the past, I tried focusing on what I could still do. Of the people I met in rehab, I probably had one of the lowest level injuries. I was only paralyzed from the waist down, most of them were paralyzed from the neck down or the chest down. I was just happy I was functioning from the waist up, I could still play the viola, write, and feed myself.”

For Michael, there was no other way of coping with his injuries than to think positively: “I knew staying positive was probably my only option. Being negative is just a waste of energy and just delays the progress. I believe in the power of positive thinking and that had a lot to do with it. I knew I just had to hope for the best and see what would happen.”

He knew that he had the tools to live with the progress he had already made, “There’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen. I pretty much wouldn’t allow myself to have any negative thoughts. Even if I was in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, they taught me how to live. Worst case scenario, I’d be able to live through the wheelchair. I just always had a feeling that things could have been worse and I was lucky.” 

His positive attitude was an important factor in shaping his perspective early on in the recovery process, “Funny thing is, I never got really depressed, like a lot of people in my situation do. I think being surrounded by family really helped. The Flagler community was very supportive of me. They put me on sabbatical and I had a lot of support from friends. Between my church, my orchestra, and people here in the Flagler community I got hundreds of cards, gifts, phone calls, and e-mails.”

Now that he is back on campus, able to walk, he makes an effort to do the things he used to take for granted, “I use to take the elevator and park close, but now I make it a point to take the stairs because I can. I try to park pretty far, because I can walk, so I want to walk, I enjoy every step I take. In the past I took that for granted. When you get to the point where you think you’ll never walk again and then you can walk, you just enjoy every step.”

Professor Michael Insalaca hopes to make a full recovery and continues to remain positive each and every day.

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