Recovering from Trauma: 6 Powerful Survivor Stories Sure to Inspire You


Mind over matter: that’s what everyone reminds us. Yet when we’re faced with hurdles, ones that have the potential to leave lasting damage, mind over matter is one of the most difficult notions to believe in. 

Yet, time and time again, survivor stories of others prove this age-old dictum isn’t too far off. 

If you need some inspirational reminders of the power you possess, read these six true stories.

6 Inspirational Survivor Stories

From near-death experiences to overcoming the impossible, these stories demonstrate the might of human nature and the value of never losing hope.

1. Janine Shepherd

Perhaps one of the most powerful stories in our list is from Janine Shepherd. Shepherd was a cross-country skier well on her way to an Olympic Medal when tragedy hit. 

The Accident

While on a bike ride, a utility truck hit Shepherd. She broke multiple bones and her neck and back in six places. The accident also caused extensive internal and external injuries. 

Although a surgery to remove the shattered remnants of her spine was a success, she remained partially paralyzed.

The chances of Shepherd walking again were slim. She would live with a catheter and, if she could walk, she’d need a caliber and walking frame. She would handle daily pain for the rest of her life.

At this point, Shepherd believed, her dreams were over.

The Power of Dreams

It was after she returned home that Shepherd realized she would never be the Olympic skier she had planned. But that didn’t mean life was over.

Shepherd soon realized, as she says, that she was “free to explore life’s infinite possibilities.”

She took to the sky, obtained her commercial pilot license and instructor’s license, and went on to become an aerobatics pilot.

Shepherd not only overcame her physical barriers but let them show her the path to a new life.

2. Janne Kouri

Janne Kouri didn’t expect a day at the beach would change everything. He was a football player at Georgia University and was catching the eye of many NFL scouts. 

In 2006, however, one dip into the ocean had severe and unforeseen consequences. 

The Accident

On August 5, Kouri was playing volleyball with some friends and dove into the ocean to cool off. This simple act nearly cost him his life. 

Kouri’s head smashed into a sandbar, and it was only due to the actions of an off-duty EMT he didn’t drown. That one dive paralyzed him from the neck down. 

Doctors explained he would never walk again. 

The Power of Love  

In addition to being paralyzed, Kouri nearly died twice from pneumonia and other causes during his stay at the hospital. Through the entire experience, his then-girlfriend Susan refused to leave his side. 

Together, they sought out an expert who believed she had a therapy technique that could help. After five years of vigorous work, Janne Kouri danced with his wife Susan.

3. Shannon Miller

Shannon Miller was a seven-time Olympic medalist winner for gymnastics, and she was living life to the fullest. At 33, Miller had a one-year-old child and launched a new company focusing on women health. 

One diagnosis turned her world upside down. 

The Diagnosis

Parenthood is busy, and Miller almost skipped her annual exam because of her overfull schedule but decided to go anyway. It saved her life. 

Miller discovered she had stage II ovarian cancer. 

The Power of Determination

After surgery to remove the baseball-sized mass on her ovary, Miller underwent intense chemotherapy for nine weeks. The chemo left her extremely ill and weak, and even a year after her treatment she continued to feel the effects. 

Today, Miller discusses her experience with cancer and encourages parents to keep their annual appointments. 

4. Simon Lewis

Perhaps best known as the film director of the “Look Who’s Talking” movie series, Simon Lewis was well on his way to fame until a single car crash took away almost everything he held dear.

The Accident

In 1994, a van traveling at 75 miles per hour hit Lewis and his wife, whom he married five months prior. His wife died immediately and Lewis’s injuries were so severe he was initially believed dead. 

In addition to innumerable broken bones, Lewis suffered a stroke that destroyed a third of his right hemisphere. He fell into a severe coma with little chance of recovery. 

Lewis woke from his coma a month later with an IQ below 50 and limited awareness. Doctors expected he would never recover. 

The Power of Tenacity

Twenty years later, the “Man With the Missing Brain” has almost a genius-level IQ, walks with a limp and speaks like an academic. He credits his recovery to his friends and an educational therapist who worked with him. 

The man missing a third of his right hemisphere wrote a book entitled “Rise and Shine” and currently works on other scripts. While his battle is far from over, Lewis’ story is a miracle for patients with head traumas. 

Lewis’ story shows an auto injury doctor and therapists help victims of car crashes exponentially.

5. Aimee Mullins

Her name is sensationalized throughout the media–and with good reason. Aimee Mullins is a model, athlete and motivational speaker. 

But her astounding success didn’t come easily. 

Her Condition

Due to fibular hemimelia, Mullins was born without shin bones. When she was one, she had both legs amputated. 

Doctors were unsure if she would ever walk. 

The Power of Opportunity

Mullins saw her legs as an opportunity, and it led to her to become a runner, walk down the runway and inspire others with her story. 

She credits her success to those around her and the ability to look at her condition not as a disability but as an opportunity. 

6. Wheely Willy

The last on our list isn’t quite human. He’s a dog nicknamed Wheely Willy

Left for Dead

Passerby found Willy in a cardboard box with a slit throat and spinal injuries that made him a paraplegic. He survived his injuries and groomer Deborah Turner adopted him. 

The Power of Support

Willy was unable to walk on his own, but thanks to a wheelchair for dogs, he soon took life in his own paws. He thrived, eventually becoming a regular visitor at hospitals around his home. 

Several children’s books detail his amazing story.

Survival After Trauma

These survivor stories demonstrate the power of human (and puppy) emotions and the willpower that drives us all. 

And these are only a few of the many out there. Read our four stories about amazing after-surgery recoveries to hear more.

Perhaps, then, mind over matter isn’t such an inaccurate mantra.