GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Clementine Sikiri knows what it means to fight.
"So my family moved to the United States in 2003 from Rwanda, and we were re-settled through an agency," she said.
She was 9 years old when she and her family moved to Grand Rapids from a refugee camp.
Sikiri has certainly faced her fair share of challenges but has never let that stop her, living a life filled with passion, faith and the drive to overcome things – which likely carried her through the journey that lied ahead.
"So on Feb. 20, 2019, I was driving back home a little bit after 11 p.m., and I got T-boned by a cement truck, and I immediately blacked out. And I woke up in the ICU a week later," she said.
The impact was so intense it caused her skull to separate from her spine, leaving her internally decapitated.
"So when I woke up in the ICU, I didn’t know what had happened, but the nurse told me I'd been in a car accident, and they were getting ready to take me into surgery number five, which was my jaw surgery," she said.
She had a traumatic brain injury, broke her jaw and leg and even suffered a stroke that caused temporary paralysis. Doctors say it’s a miracle she even survived.
"The staff at the hospital were surprised, and they were saying they’ve never seen anything like this," Sikiri said. "I felt that my family and close friends also carried my pain and burden with them, and when they came in, I was not reminded that I was limited, I was reminded of the good things and just the positivity. And we celebrated almost every day, because every day was an accomplishment," she said.
Her family and friends were her biggest supporters, never leaving her side.
"Especially my Grandma. She would drop to her knees every day in the room and just pray for me, and I just felt such a spiritual connection to God during my whole time here in the hospital," Sikiri said.
Filled with grace and strength to continue her fight, Sikiri eventually made it to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids.
"When we met Clementine, she came to us: She had a halo brace on. She was non-weight bearing on one of her legs. She couldn’t really move either of those legs either. She had a feeding tube in. She had a trach collar with the supplemental oxygen. Her jaw was wired shut. So she came to us much, much different than we she her today," said physical therapist Benjamin Wickman.
Despite the physical limitations, Sikiri never lost her spirit — a kind of resilience that radiated from within.
"Everybody loves Clementine. She just really draws people do her," he said.
"Clementine made amazing progress. It really surprised us many times when, 'Oh, wow, you can start to move that leg more. Well, in that case, let’s try standing. Oh, you’re standing up. Let's try walking.' So her progress was always great. Her attitude was just amazing," Wickman said.
"I remember the first time I was walking with the walker with two therapists next to me and them measuring how far I am walking, and it was not a far distance, but every day we progressed and progressed to a point where I was walking by myself," Sikiri said.
Just seven weeks after beginning rehab, she and her family literally danced their way out the door when she was cleared to graduate.
Her soul filled with joy, not anger over what she endured – just thankful for a second chance.
"We just tend to dwell on the negative during our negative situation, and I strongly encourage to anyone who is recovering – and recovering doesn’t mean physically recovering; it can be recovering from anything really – to just start setting small goals and accomplish those, because when you accomplish a goal, you more likely want to set another one. Because you want to accomplish that one, too," she said.
"Just stay positive and to have people that you love and care for and that you know care for you as well to be by your side and to remind you who you are, because it’s easy to lose yourself in the middle of that."
Sikiri is now preparing for the Amway Riverbank Run in May.