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Williamsburg woman turns her lifelong disability into a children’s story – Daily Press

WILLIAMSBURG — Nanette Opperman’s life changed when she was hit by a speeding truck at the age of 3, causing permanent spinal cord damage and traumatic brain injury.

At the same time, she never stopped being Nanette.

As Opperman, now 43, documents in her self-published children’s book, “Nanette’s Greatest Adventure,” she felt as curious and daring as ever. She just needed to figure out how to stay true to herself and follow her dreams in her new body.

“Once I did that, I was perfectly fine,” Opperman says. “I really didn’t care if I was ‘different’ from other people. It seems like these days we’re always looking for what makes us different, but I wanted to focus on what’s the same.

“Nanette’s Grandest Adventure,” released in July with artwork by local artist Laurel Palmer, features a 3-year-old heroine who wakes up in a hospital after a gambling accident. The story initiates what Opperman, an author for the first time, hopes to be at least a five-part series.

“I want to show a girl with a disability who is going through a childhood, with mostly ordinary interests and desires,” she explains. “And, frankly, to teach parents that as long as they can figure out HOW a child is going to do something, they don’t have to worry so much.”

Born in Pennsylvania, Opperman has no memory of the accident that nearly killed her. During a family visit with a friend in New Jersey, she got away from her older sister and crossed a road alone to watch sailboats on a nearby waterway.

An approaching driver saw Opperman and slammed on the brakes, but the boat he was towing hit the back of his truck and propelled him forward. As four of Opperman’s five siblings watched in horror, she was thrown through the air and landed on her head. Her mother, a nurse, ran outside and started performing CPR.

“I wasn’t supposed to live,” Opperman says. “I had no pupillary reaction and was in a coma for five weeks. It’s a miracle that I woke up. Then the doctors thought I was going to be paralyzed from the neck down, but then I moved.

Opperman suffered an incomplete or partial rupture of a segment of his cervical spine located in his neck, as well as brain damage from his violent shaking inside his skull. She was partially paralyzed on both sides of her body, although the left side was significantly worse.

Opperman was hospitalized for about a year and underwent more than 15 years of physical and occupational therapy, as well as several surgeries. She thanks her family, her faith and countless doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers for her recovery.

Since the accident, Opperman has relied on leg braces and a wheelchair for navigation, in addition to doing a small amount of slow walking for physical therapy. She can use her right hand but not her right shoulder, while her left hand is practically useless. His brain injury also impacted some high-level executive functioning skills, such as math.

Still, Opperman learned to handle all the activities of daily living, from cooking to dressing to driving a car with one arm and one foot. Putting on clothes – especially pulling socks with a footrest and constantly wiggling and tugging – is the hardest part.

“I refuse to get dressed more than once a day,” she says. “My shoelaces are elastic and I don’t have to tie them, which is good because I can’t tie them. Things often take me longer than others, but I haven’t let that stop me from being independent and successful.

In fact, Opperman has two bachelor’s degrees, one in English from Southern Virginia University and one in recreation therapy from Old Dominion University. A resident of Williamsburg since 2004, she is married and works full-time as an administrative assistant, with part-time jobs in publishing and marketing.

As for writing, Opperman started writing poetry in high school and has always enjoyed reading. She met Palmer, another Williamsburg resident with a design degree from Brigham Young University, at church, and they bonded further at a monthly book club.

Hearing that Palmer, 48, hoped to become a full-time illustrator once her two teenagers left home, Opperman shared her book idea. Palmer immediately jumped on board and plans to collaborate on future editions of the “Nanette” series.

“The message is to take our challenges and turn them into adventures,” says Palmer. “My goal was to capture the fun and innocence of her brave character, to make her gentle but at the same time strong and capable.”

Despite working long hours, Opperman has already written part of a second book and hopes to publish it next year. “I like to stay busy and get things done,” she says.

After all, it’s still Nanette.

“Nanette’s Grandest Adventure” is available for purchase on Amazon as an e-book, paperback, or hardcover. Opperman also donated a copy to the Williamsburg Regional Library, where it will become part of the Local Authors Project collection. She will sign copies of the book at 1 p.m. on September 10 at Barnes & Noble New Town, 5101 Main St.

Alison Johnson,

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