A life-changing car accident on 3rd Mainland Bridge back in 2014 changed Efena Otobo’s life in so many ways, but it was by no means the end of it. Instead what follows is a continuing story of the power of resilience and positivity even in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. It is perhaps why, even as she continues to come to grips with the sharp turn her life took that Easter Monday, Efena has embarked on a number of exciting adventures and experiences. Efena Otobo’s story is a reminder to us all that even in the face of the biggest trials, we can find hope, joy and many reasons to smile. Read her inspiring story, in her own words, below. – SONIA IRABOR


“Catastrophic injury”.

Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia describes spinal cord injuries thus so. The best way to truly comprehend the devastation and crippling pain these types of injuries tend to leave in their wake is to take you back to the start. Despite countless hours spent writhing in agony from neuropathic (nerve) pain and muscle spasms; what may catch you by surprise is that within these moments, gratitude, unadulterated joy, and pure happiness are evident and eventually prevail. Sheer determination, perseverance, and willpower have kept me out of the dark abyss consistently propelling me forward to fully embrace new and exciting experiences.

The Day Everything Changed

Everything came into sharp focus. The voices of the gathering spectators and Good Samaritans sounded bewildered and frightened but there was no personal reprieve on my part for my survival mode had completely taken hold of all five senses. My sense of hearing seemed magnified to a scale of 11; to a point where the smallest of decibels were discernible. The first thing I remember when I looked down was the shape of my legs. I willed them to move but my body betrayed me. In an un-funny twist of fate, my body transformed itself to a hell-adjacent cell of solitary confinement. A cruel method of suspended animation. It all seemed unreal; like a strange hallucination viewed through someone else’s eyes. My bones seemed to no longer exist. Both ankles were nearly at a 45-degree angle. A hook; a scythe; a question mark – these are the forms that came to mind if one had asked for an apt description. My legs failed me that fateful day. That horrible, perception-altering, life-changing day. Easter Monday 2014.

The Hour Something Broke

The diagnosis was bleak, depressing. The doctor strolled over to the right side of the skinny hospital bed. He performed a humiliating test that left me vulnerable and in a harrowing state of indignity. To protect any delicate sensibilities, I shall spare you the details. What followed next seemed to happen in slow motion. His tone was a pseudo-professional mixture of definitiveness with a hint of sadness. “I’m afraid you suffer from a T4 Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) caused by a T12/L1 fracture”, he said. He might as well be speaking Middle English. My parents asked for further clarification. Everything went blurry, the sound of my parents’ voices were distorted like they were submerged underwater. These were the unforgettable moments that preceded my internal and external transformation. My life and that of my family’s’ would forever be altered dramatically by this catastrophic incident.

The Time Perceptions Changed

Fast forward to 3 years later. What I refer to as my #NoFear photoshoot was underway. Sitting in my alabaster coloured bedroom, my rationale behind wanting to pose for the camera was simple. I wanted, nay, needed to get a message out there – disabled does not translate to being unable. I vowed right then and there to live life as fiercely and fearlessly as I possibly could, facing challenges head on. Three interesting years had gone by and my past experiences only just reinforced my mantra of overcoming paralysis one step at a time. Being paralysed is something that one should never belittle. The often debilitating effects of a spinal cord injury include sporadic & crippling nerve pain, bouts of insomnia, and working out regularly becomes an excruciating must to facilitate recovery. Stormy Sloane (my incroyable photographer extraordinaire) and Victoria Reynolds (total make-up genius) were the fantastic duo behind my amazing images. Our natural chemistry and undeniable synergy made my first professional shoot extremely fun and comfortable. Everything was utter perfection. The location, the wardrobe, the shoes and especially the make-up. Without Stormy’s genius guidance, my poses would probably have been kinda lacklustre. She has this ineffable way of making one feel immediately at ease; the shots pretty much had to be absolutely flawless. She created an intoxicating atmosphere of comfort and playful giddiness. I loved every second of it! Admiring the architectural marvels of the City of London’s skyline, I could not help but reminisce fondly of the SoCal adventures that brought me thus far.

The Months of California Dreamin’

Braving the sunny climes of the West Coast had been on my bucket list for some time. Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Orange County. Prior to 2015, I had only been on the eastern shores of the States. However, one could not have possibly predicted that being confined to a neon-orange set of rims would lead me on my various TV-themed adventures. From San Diego Comic Con to VegasCon to the Heroes and Villains Fan Fests in San Jose and London as well as Walker Stalker Con, extremely fond memories San Diego Comic Con 2015 was my unbelievable, slightly transcendent foray into the world of cosplay, celebrity Q & A panels, selfies and unscripted but fascinating dialogue with awesome actors. Anyone who knows about Comic-Con would testify that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even celebrities look forward to ‘walking the Convention floor’ every year. The best thing about the trip is that it was totally unexpected. The glee and the euphoria I felt when I found out. Cloud 9 doesn’t even begin to cover it. Now VegasCon February 2016 was a completely different ball game. This convention was dedicated to my all-time fave TV crushes, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, lead actors from the CW’s Supernatural. Sin City had been invaded by avid followers (comprised of women from every corner of the globe) of “Dean” and “Sam”. I could literally go on for days about each millisecond of every convention but the point I want to reinforce is this cursed SCI had inadvertently led me down a path I never thought possible. Being a long-life fan of entertainment, especially the world of film and television, and granted the opportunity to meet the thespians and actors that thoroughly enjoy getting lost in a character on the page of a script – words cannot describe the mixture of emotions bubbling underneath my cool facade.

The Moments of Quiet Reflection

In the face of all the anger, disappointment, agony, confusion and dismay, my faith and hope burns brighter than ever. I am determined to not allow the wheelchair define who I am as a being. Living life to the fullest once again has become a top priority. The ‘Efena Smiles’ social media platform was specially created to convey the realities of paralysis – the good, the bad and the painful. Sharing my journey towards total restoration with friends and strangers alike has been both transformative and inspirational. Wine tasting in the vineyards of Napa Valley, appreciating the beauty of nature in Carlsbad, snapping windy selfies at the Golden Gate bridge, hoping to spot a celebrity in Beverly Hills, screeching with delight at the dolphins in Sea World, marvelling at the millions of Christmas lights at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, clutching my sides from laughing too hard at the jokes in The Book of Mormon production at the Fox Theatre on Atlanta’s Broadway, being gobsmacked at the wonder of ocean life at the Georgia Aquarium and getting lost in worship at the Bethel Church in Redding, California are just some of the glorious adventures I have embarked upon so far. Life may throw you a curve ball that may seem to break your spirit temporarily but reaching deep within and using a combination of faith, hope, perseverance, determination, and willpower to obliterate the obstacles in your path, I believe that you will emerge from the war victorious. For “out of suffering have emerged the strongest of souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars” (Khalil Gibran). I should know. Got the scars on my back to prove it.


Follow Efena on Instagram: @Efenasmiles and keep up with her many adventures.
Culled from the September Issue of the Genevieve Magazine.

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