She didn't quit though: Dr. Gretchen – She.Is.Beautiful & Heart Ping Life

The She.Is.Beautiful “She Didn’t Quit Though” campaign seeks to elevate women who are overcoming obstacles and becoming a person who is more resilient every day.  Our first honoree is Gretchen D’Souza.

Gretchen D’Souza is a Medical Student who will be graduating with her M.D. in 2021.  On December 26,2014, her family had been on their way to New Orleans for their annual vacation.  They  had a 3 hour layover in Dallas, so Gretchen decided to meet up with a friend for dinner. On the way back to catch her next flight, a 23 year old drunk driver ran a stop sign and hit the passenger side where Gretchen was sitting. Unfortunately, she suffered a c5/c6 incomplete spinal cord injury and damage to her right vertebral artery.  Since, Gretchen has undergone thousands of hours of therapies, treatments, procedures and workouts to help get stronger and more independent every day.  She does this all with the goal of becoming a doctor who can help change and save lives.  Gretchen also has an infectious personality, relentless spirit and a deep love of life.  Read on to learn more from Gretchen…

What is something hard that you have had to move through?

Lack of independence! Early on in my injury, I was entirely dependent on my family and friends to help me live my life and do basic activities of daily living. While I appreciated all of their help and support, being unable to do things for myself, whatever whenever, was hard emotionally and mentally. I was determined and turned to physical exercise and strength training to regain some ability & function which in turn helped me become more independent! While I still need some assistance in certain areas like cooking, I feel more confident than ever! 

Is there a mantra you tell yourself in dark times?

It sounds cheesy but “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” is always in the back of my mind. Every challenge, fall, failure, or setback that put you in a dark place happened for a reason… to help you learn, grow, change, and become better than you were.  It’s hard and never fully goes away but going through dark times always makes me more grateful for those lighter days ahead.  

I think it also helps to know your limits. I am not afraid to reach out for help or simply take time for myself to overcome burnout and take care of my mental health. 

It takes both, the willingness to pull yourself out of the darkness but also ask for and accept help when needed! 

What is your current fun obsession/guilty pleasure?

Recently, I’ve learned there is no such thing as guilty pleasure! If you love it and it makes you happy, then no need to feel guilty about it right?! As for obsessions, I’ve been hooked on reading romance/feel good novels. A romance author writing a story about a girl with a spinal cord injury had reached out via social media and wanted me to sensitivity read her work! It was really sweet of her to ask me! Besides that, I’m just a sucker for happy ever afters! 

Why is exercise important to you?

Exercise connects mind, body and soul! It keeps me healthy both mentally and physically which in turn leads to a happier and healthy life. Having an spinal cord injury isn’t just a mobility limitation, it also has secondary complications that i’m constantly thinking about. Regular exercise helps me prevent some of those complications. In regards to mental well being,   exercise provides me with a chance to escape from all of life’s distractions for that one moment. I tend to feel much more freer & relaxed because of it.  

What are some current goals you are working towards? 

Everyday, I set challenges for myself to achieve more independence. I recently got my driver’s license and am able to run my own errands and go to therapy sessions more frequently! It’s a huge accomplishment after 5 1/2 years post injury! My next short term goals are to try cooking without burning myself and travel more independently. Long term, I am finishing up medical school and looking forward to graduating in June!

Thanks Gretchen for sharing a piece of your story!  Follow along on Gretchen’s journey here.