Meena: Spinal Cord Injury and Pregnancy
Meena Dhanjal Outlaw was injured on January 23, 2000, after she stepped onto the balcony of her newly built home and was locked out of her house. Concerned about the safety of her 3-week-old son, Miles, and 3-year-old daughter, Jasmine, she attempted to climb down from the balcony. She ended up falling and, as a result, shattered two vertebrae: T12 and L1. After a weeklong acute-care hospitalization, she was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann where William Donovan, M.D., became her attending physician.
"My first day there was very frightening, because I understood for the first time that I was headed down a different path," Meena says. "I thought they transferred me to TIRR Memorial Hermann so that I could learn to walk again, but instead they were teaching me to be functional in a wheelchair. I knew it was the start of a journey of learning the ‘new me,' so I gritted my teeth and moved forward. My son was 3 weeks old when the accident occurred. My kids were my motivation to get better and get home."
Re-married in 2006, pregnancy was not on Meena's radar. By the time she learned she was expecting she was close to finishing her first trimester. "One day while driving the kids to school, I realized I hadn't had a menstrual period in a while. I have a memory issue related to my spinal cord injury that makes it difficult to pinpoint specific dates, so I called my husband and asked him if he thought I might be pregnant. I wouldn't say he dropped the phone, but it went extremely quiet on his end."
When Meena discovered she was pregnant, she saw an OB/GYN who referred her to a high-risk maternal-fetal medicine specialist. "I went into the exam room thinking that being pregnant was a good thing, but left feeling as if it was a bad thing," says Meena, who was 41 at the time. "Of course, David was just in constant shock, because when we married he didn't expect to have children with me, so he was just as content raising Miles and Jasmine as his own.”
Margaret R. Rogers, RN, B.S.N., BC, nurse coordinator in the Urology department at TIRR Memorial Hermann, referred Meena to obstetrician and gynecologist Hunter Hammill, M.D., at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Medical Clinic. "When we met, it was like night and day," Meena remembers. "The first thing he asked me was, ‘What have you heard about pregnancy and spinal cord injury?' I went down my list of mostly cons. I was high risk. I couldn't have a baby normally and would have to have a C-section. There was also mention of me not being able to have this baby at all. Then, he told me to rid myself of all those thoughts and start thinking about having a baby. I left calm and relaxed, with the conviction that I could do it."
At the time of delivery, Meena requested to try and push the baby out instead of Dr. Hammill using forceps. On the first push, the baby moved 4 inches. With the second push, he came out immediately. “It was the greatest moment of my life,” Meena said. “I'm paralyzed, and I could actually push my own baby out. We went from not being able to have a baby to having a C-section to a normal vaginal birth. My God, that's amazing! I would never have been able to get that far without Dr. Hammill." So, James Om Prakash Outlaw was born on June 29, 2011.
After becoming a mother once more, Meena was faced with many obstacles, such as locating an accessible crib. In fact, she was unable to find one, so she created a design and hired an independent contractor to make it. Realizing how her vast amount of research, innovative thinking and continuous connection to TIRR Memorial Hermann had allowed her to carry and give birth to a child with ease, Meena felt it necessary to share her experience with others. Therefore, she competed for Ms. Wheelchair Texas 2014 and became the first runner up. Her platform was “Inclusive Parenting” and she still continues to focus on making sure that all the resources that were available to her are easily accessible to other disabled persons wishing to have a family of their own. Meena has stayed connected to TIRR since her injury in 2000 as she continues to be treated by physicians at the TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Medical Clinic and receive therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation locations. “Treatment and therapy doesn’t stop at the initial injury, you continue to need follow ups to maintain your health,” says Meena.
Besides being a busy mom, Meena is a published author. Her first book, A Moment in Time, is a memoir of her life after her spinal cord injury. She went on to write for children and developed a children's series, Mattie Has Wheels. Frustrated by the lack of books she could find to read to her two young children after her paralysis, she wrote her own. Meena created a little girl who, through illustrations and words, shows how she achieves independence. Her newest release, “Mattie Has Wheels, Traveling on a Plane,” will be out in summer 2014 and illustrates how Mattie travels on a plane to visit her grandmother. In May 2012, Meena was awarded a college diploma in Writing for Children and Teenagers from The Institute of Children's Literature and is working on the continuation of the Mattie series. She is also collaborating with Dr. Hammill on a guidebook to pregnancy for women with disabilities. Last but not least, Meena also volunteers for the National Spinal Cord Injury Association as a lead co-coordinator for a Spinal Cord Peer Group, and instructs Fusion Wheelchair Aerobics at The Metropolitan Multiservice Center once a week. She incorporates Indian folk and classical dance to music inspired from Bollywood and American chart toppers.
It is obvious that Meena has not allowed her disability to place limits on her life as a wife, mother or professional. On the contrary, she has taken this as a platform to educate others and an opportunity to be the best that she can be.