While many women are dreaming of neatly wrapped Christmas packages filled with diamonds and pearls and others are looking ahead to their New Year’s resolutions, vowing to shed a few unwanted pounds, one local resident has just one wish.
Wendy Gage Rostagno, 49, is asking for one simple pleasure this holiday season and hopes the miracle of science will make that dream come true.
“To stand and hug my husband would be a wonderful gift,” she said.
Rostagno and her husband Joe were married three and a half years ago, more than a year after her life was changed in an instant. She was suddenly forced to face life sitting down after an accident in April 2004, when she was paralyzed from the waist down.
“I was on my way to work at Schreiber. I was really looking forward to the day - we had Relay for Life that night,” she said. “I had packed a bag so I could change clothes after work. I loaded up my truck and headed out the door. The bag in the seat next to me dumped over. Like any female would do, I removed my seat belt for just a second, bent over and attempted to pick everything up. When I looked up I was going around a curve. I panicked and over corrected. My vehicle rolled over three times. I was thrown out of the passenger window. I believe I landed 40 feet from my truck. Needless to say, I never made it to work that day.”
She had only been dating Joe for about six months when her personal “hell” began to unfold.
“All I wanted was to die. I didn’t want anyone to see me, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. But Joe was there every step of the way, encouraging me and pushing me onward,” Rostagno said. “I tried and tried to run him off. I didn’t want to burden him with a handicapped girlfriend, but he wouldn’t go away.”
She said in just six months, they had formed a “fairy tale love.”
“I felt truly cheated by what had happened,” Rostagno said.
Life wasn’t much better when she returned home from the hospital.
“All I could do was focus on those things I could no longer do, instead of what I could do. I suffered from horrible depression. I really wanted to die,” she said.
But Joe taught her how to drive again. She returned to work. The lovebirds got married. Through his love, she found strength. But her disability at times still looms over her like a dark shadow.
“Life is good, but it could be better,” she said. “I still have the daily struggles and challenges. They are more a nuisance than anything else. But what choice do I have? None.”
She recently learned there may be a choice somewhere beyond the borders of the United States.
Joe was on his way to work one day and listening to the radio when a man by the name of Don Margolis was talking about the potential medical miracles that could be found in adult stem cells.
“I got in touch with him (Margolis) and did everything he told me to do,” Rostagno said.
Meanwhile, she read a story in the Empire-Tribune about local resident Jason Slawson, who made the trip to The Stem Cell Institute in Costa Rica where his stem cells were harvested and reintroduced into his body.
Slawson was also paralyzed following a roofing accident a decade earlier.
Upon his return from treatment, Slawson regained some movement in his extremities and was finally able to control severe spasms that overpowered his body.
Today, Slawson is able to take strides with the assistance of a walker.
“That’s what really convinced me,” Rostagno said.
With the help of her church family at Duffau Baptist Church and words of wisdom from her pastor, her “hell” has given way to hope.
“My church has given me more than $11,000 to help fund the trip to Costa Rica,” Rostagno said. “The rest (of the $30,000) has been raised through fundraisers and private donations. I am still about $4,000 short from reaching the total.”
She and her husband will soon embark on the journey to San Juan, Costa Rica, where she will begin four weeks of therapy on Jan. 11.
While she dreams of standing in her husband’s arms, her optimism is guarded.
“I don’t want to get my hopes too high, but I do hope to at least see some improvements, whatever they may be,” Rostagno said. “To stand and hug my husband would truly be a wonderful gift.”
She said over the last few months, things have fallen into place really fast. And the rest she said is in God’s hands.
“My pastor told me last Sunday, ‘Wendy, God has carried you this far, he will carry you the rest of the way,” she said.