Local teacher takes it step by step

A local resident commemorates the year anniversary of a traumatic accident with a walk of hope and resilience.

On Nov. 9, 2010, Re­becca Leven­berg moun­ted her bi­cycle to travel roughly four miles from her South Phil­adelphia home to Cen­ter City’s Rus­sell By­ers Charter School where she is a spe­cial edu­ca­tion teach­er. But, that day’s ride would be any­thing but nor­mal.

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On Nov. 9, 2010, Re­becca Leven­berg moun­ted her bi­cycle to travel roughly four miles from her South Phil­adelphia home to Cen­ter City’s Rus­sell By­ers Charter School where she is a spe­cial edu­ca­tion teach­er. But, that day’s ride would be any­thing but nor­mal.

“I was rid­ing my reg­u­lar route [along] Wash­ing­ton, in the bike lane, and at Fifth Street I was cross­ing over, and a trash truck sud­denly made a right turn in­to the bike lane,” Leven­berg, who had been rid­ing that route for four years, said. “So he ran me over.”

Leven­berg suffered mul­tiple in­jur­ies, in­clud­ing a col­lapsed lung, five broken ribs and what would even­tu­ally leave her left leg am­pu­tated above the knee.

“I began wear­ing a pros­thes­is. Well, I was fit­ted back in the spring for a pros­thes­is and I began train­ing at McGee Re­hab and walk­ing on my pros­thes­is at the end of April,” the 42-year-old said.

The short time with her new edi­tion hasn’t held back the de­term­ined Leven­berg and she has already set a 1,000-mile goal to be reached by Nov. 9, 2012, which will be the two-year an­niversary of her ac­ci­dent.

“That’s my own per­son goal. I was try­ing to come up with a goal that would al­low me to meas­ure my pro­gress, to be able to meas­ure in de­grees to see how far I was com­ing,” she said. “At night, since I was stay­ing with my par­ents, my dad [Dav­id] and I would go out walk­ing.

“At first, we could only make it to our next-door neigh­bor’s house and back. For my dad, it was barely worth put­ting shoes on. But little by little we made it past four houses, then six houses. And even­tu­ally we stopped count­ing houses and I tried to get around the block.”

Mo­tiv­ated by hit­ting these mile­stones, Leven­berg pur­chased a pe­do­met­er and began think­ing about adding up the steps.

“When I was awake in the hos­pit­al, my aunt and uncle had giv­en me a neck­lace that said, ‘The jour­ney of a thou­sand miles be­gins with one step.’ It was spe­cial to me then and it had more and more mean­ing,” Leven­berg said. “I began walk­ing farther and farther and it was a long-term goal. I came up with the idea late spring/early sum­mer to start on Ju­ly 9, which is ex­actly eight months after the ac­ci­dent date.”

Though Leven­berg clocks steps daily, she had plenty of people cheer­ing her on her one-year an­niversary Fri­day. Clin­ic­al nurse spe­cial­ist for sur­gery/trauma, De­borah A. Gardiner, from Cen­ter 7, the unit that was re­spons­ible for the ma­jor­ity of her re­cov­ery care, or­gan­ized her Mile No. 160 around Thomas Jef­fer­son Uni­versity Hos­pit­al. She hit the pave­ment again Sat­urday with about 100 friends and fam­ily for a walk from the ac­ci­dent site to her home.

“It was such a trau­mat­ic day, I was dread­ing the first an­niversary of my ac­ci­dent. I thought it was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to face it,” Leven­berg said. “[The Jef­fer­son staff] made this day easi­er, too.”

Born in Am­bler, Leven­berg at­ten­ded Chica­go’s North­west­ern Uni­versity, where she earned a bach­el­or’s and then a mas­ter’s in learn­ing dis­ab­il­ity edu­ca­tion in 1992.

“I taught out in Chica­go for a year be­fore I moved back to the Phil­adelphia area, since this is where most of my fam­ily is,” Leven­berg said. “I’ve been teach­ing for about 20 years now.”

Her most re­cent role has been at Rus­sell By­ers, where she was the spe­cial edu­ca­tion co­ordin­at­or, which had her aid­ing classroom teach­ers with spe­cial needs chil­dren as well as over­see­ing oth­er as­pects of the school’s spe­cial edu­ca­tion pro­gram such as com­pli­ance. Since the ac­ci­dent, she has moved in­to a part-time role — one she star­ted this school year — where she over­sees two new fac­ulty mem­bers.

“I’ve gone around to all the classrooms and shown it to the kids, my leg. I call it a ro­bot leg to them some­times. They have been really fas­cin­ated by it,” Leven­berg said. “They make all kinds of con­nec­tions of what they see in my leg and what they see around them.”

A con­sum­mate edu­cat­or, Leven­berg takes all of the set­backs of the ac­ci­dent in stride, but ad­mits there are daily “ups and downs” that she battles.

“I can’t say there was one time I was de­pressed and now I’m over that,” she said. “It’s a spir­al pro­cess that I have been go­ing through. I try to fo­cus on the pos­it­ive in any situ­ation.”

The sev­en-year res­id­ent of the area has a de­term­in­a­tion any­one can envy and while she has just star­ted the steps to­ward re­cov­ery, she has her sights set on big­ger things.

“I look for­ward to do­ing a lot of things that I used to do. I was in an in­line-skat­ing club in the city and I’m just start­ing to get back on my skates,” Leven­berg, who is one of six chil­dren, said. “It’s very, very dif­fi­cult. I’ve been on my skates five or six times now, un­der the su­per­vi­sion my pros­thet­ist or a friend of mine who is an in­line skate in­struct­or. I’m start­ing to re­semble a very be­gin­ning skater. It’s strange to be start­ing at the be­gin­ning since I have been skat­ing since I was a little kid.”

An­oth­er item on her to-do list is trav­el­ing, as Leven­berg spent two sum­mers in home ex­changes with European fam­il­ies in the past.

“The way I do things might look dif­fer­ent like I may not go by my­self or I need to get a cer­tain home to ex­change, but I’m hop­ing I will still do it all. And bike rid­ing, of course, also,” she said.

The am­bi­tious out­look did not come easy, as a trauma of the nature that Leven­berg suffered can­not be over­stated.

“Hav­ing gone through a trauma like get­ting hit un­ex­pec­tedly by a truck, it takes a lot to re­cov­er just from that in­cid­ent it­self. I was afraid to walk on the street or side­walk where there were cars, that was dif­fi­cult at first,” Leven­berg said.

Leven­berg, however, has a huge sup­port team in her corner, in­clud­ing her fath­er; moth­er, Patti; sib­lings; the Jef­fer­son med­ic­al staff; and her pros­thet­ist, Tim Ray­er, who Leven­berg said has been a “ma­jor cheer­lead­er for me.” These sup­port­ers, along with friends, has al­lowed her to take steps — phys­ic­ally and meta­phor­ic­ally — she wasn’t sure were pos­sible at this stage.

“I think with any life-chan­ging event, es­pe­cially a trau­mat­ic one that hap­pens all at once, there’s a griev­ing pro­cess you go through were you have to give up the world and the life you were used to and then ac­cept­ing the new one. You have to take parts of the old and who you used to be and meld them to­geth­er with who you are now,” she said. “It’s been baby steps, lit­er­ally, but I’ve made a lot of pro­gress so far.” SPR

Pho­tos provided by Thomas Jef­fer­son Hos­pit­al and Re­becca Leven­berg

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