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Video: Paralyzed bride-to-be ‘doing awesome’

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    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Almost every woman dreams of her wedding day and the celebrations that lead up to it, but for one bride-to-be that dream turned tragic. We're going to talk to her exclusively in a moment, but first, Natalie has her story. Natalie :

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: Well, Meredith , life can change in a split second and Rachelle Friedman knows that all too well. The bride-to-be was enjoying her bachelorette party earlier this year when something went horribly wrong.

    Ms. RACHELLE FRIEDMAN (Bride-to-Be Paralyzed at Her Bachelorette Party): As soon as I hit the water, I felt my body just kind of stiffen up and I went numb, I kind of heard a crack in my neck.

    MORALES: Just six months ago, Rachelle Friedman 's life was picture-perfect, the 24-year-old college graduate was celebrating with her girlfriends, her wedding just a few weeks away.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: I had the dress, I had the perfect invitations and the perfect fiance.

    MORALES: But her bachelorette party ended horribly when a friend pushed Rachelle into a pool.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: We were just horsing around by the pool and a freak accident and I just went in the wrong way and hit my head.

    MORALES: Rachelle suffered a C6 spinal cord injury and no longer has feeling below her collarbone.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Every day is a fight and there's so much things that I'm unable to do right now. But you have to fight if you're going to get there.

    MORALES: After a stay in the ICU and three more months in the hospital, Rachelle continues to go to outpatient therapy. Her spirit remains unbroken.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: There's no use in being down in the dumps and depressed, it's not going to get you anywhere.

    MORALES: Her mother and brother help her during the day while her fiance Chris Chapman is at work as a schoolteacher.

    Mr. CHRIS CHAPMAN (Fiancee Paralyzed at Her Bachelorette Party): That's our engagement...

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Announcement.

    Mr. CHAPMAN: ...announcement.

    MORALES: And yes, Chris and Rachelle still plan to get married soon.

    Mr. CHAPMAN: No new date has been set. We are hoping within the year. I never once thought about leaving her or the situation, it was simply a matter of, you know, we are a couple, we're going to get through this.

    MORALES: But a marriage could complicate their medical insurance. The couple says when they marry their combined incomes, including her long-term disability payments, 60 percent of her salary from a nonprofit, will make them ineligible for Medicaid .

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: We're trying really, really hard to get through all those things because I'm determined I'm going to marry him one way or another .

    MORALES: And sure to be among the wedding guests, Rachelle 's friend who pushed her into the pool that night. She doesn't blame her and won't even tell us that friend's name.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: I'm absolutely best friends with the girl. There are so many things that can happen that are freak accidents that blaming her would be ridiculous.

    MORALES: And despite being told that she will never walk again, Rachelle is working to regain her other lost functions and she can now use her arms to perform day-to-day tasks. Meredith :

    VIEIRA: Natalie , thank you. Rachelle Friedman is with us exclusively along with her fiance Chris Chapman . Good morning to you both.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Good morning.

    Mr. CHAPMAN: Good morning.

    VIEIRA: As Natalie pointed out, the doctors told you you won't be able to walk again, but you have regained some mobility with your -- with your arms and you use your thumb now to type, right?

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Yes, I sure do.

    VIEIRA: So how are you doing?

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: I mean, I'm doing awesome. I have my family around, my fiance around and...

    VIEIRA: A lot of support.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: A lot of support.

    VIEIRA: Yeah, compared to other people in similar situations, how do doctors rate your progress?

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: I was told that I progress very quickly, you know, for someone with my injury and I just worked really hard to do what I could as fast as I could. Mm-hmm.

    VIEIRA: How much of it is attitude, do you think, Rachelle ?

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Almost all of it is attitude. I mean, if you're not willing to go and do the work to get better, you won't.

    VIEIRA: Did you ever have moments of depression? I mean, you seem like such a determined young woman.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: I mean, you know, you get upset sometimes.

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: I mean, I'm not perfect and, you know, everyone gets sad, but you can't focus on those moments, you have to move on. Think about what you can do and not what you can't do.

    VIEIRA: I want to go back to that bachelorette party in May when you hit the water, and it was only about three and a half feet, you guys were horsing around.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: Your friend pushed you in. Your head hit the bottom of the pool.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Yes.

    VIEIRA: And at that moment you knew something was terribly wrong.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Oh yeah.

    VIEIRA: Did you panic?

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Not right away. I just -- I don't know, it was very surreal. I was in shock, obviously. You know, I knew what happened, but I mean, I just wanted to get out of that water and, you know, get it taken care of.

    VIEIRA: And in fact, they called 911.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Yes.

    VIEIRA: And the first call that you made was to Chris . Chris , talk to me about that phone call . You were camping with your dad, right, that night?

    Mr. CHAPMAN: Yes. It was a very troubling phone call simply because, you know, being approximately three hours away from the situation, I didn't fully understand what was going on. And she was very calm about the situation, so it was almost as if she had kind of come to terms with things and I hadn't had the chance to yet.

    VIEIRA: And how have you come to terms with it?

    Mr. CHAPMAN: Simply being there as much as I can, helping out in the ways that I can and taking my role in the family to do and show all the support that I can.

    VIEIRA: Has there been a moment for you, Chris , where you have felt 'I can't do this'? That would be very normal and very human.

    Mr. CHAPMAN: Definitely. I've certainly had moments where I felt it would be very difficult and have had a hard time coming to terms with, you know, what a possible future could be, but one day at a time , we just keep working through it.

    VIEIRA: Are you surprised at his attitude?

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: No, not at all. I mean, like I said, I knew he'd be there for me. I would be there for him, you know, if the roles had been reversed, I would've been there, so not surprised.

    VIEIRA: And, Chris , are you surprised at the way that Rachelle has handled all of this?

    Mr. CHAPMAN: Not at all. Her attitude and positivity through this whole event has really helped a lot of her family and friends get through it, I really think.

    VIEIRA: Talking about friends, your best friend was the one who pushed you in.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Yes.

    VIEIRA: You said that you have forgiven her. You didn't blame her.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: That it was -- could've happened to anybody.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I mean, I didn't even have to forgive her, I never blamed her in the first place . I mean, it was like I said, it was an accident, a freak accident . It could've happened to anyone, it could've been the other way around.

    VIEIRA: Has she forgiven herself?

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: She's having a hard time with it. You know, I mean -- but she knows that we support her. My whole family supports her, so I think it's helping her get through it.

    VIEIRA: And the wedding date, sometime within the year.

    Mr. CHAPMAN: Hopefully.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Hopefully next summer.

    Mr. CHAPMAN: We're trying to get it settled.

    VIEIRA: Well, you're just a lovely couple. Rachelle , thank you so much . Continued good health to you as you work through physical therapy to regain more control.

    Ms. FRIEDMAN: Yes.

    VIEIRA: And, Chris , thank you so much for being here.

TODAY contributor
updated 11/22/2010 9:52:52 AM ET 2010-11-22T14:52:52

A freak accident during a poolside party left Rachelle Friedman’s body forever broken. The mishap didn’t make even the slightest dent, however, in the bride-to-be’s spirit — or her desire to marry the man who stood by her when both of their lives were suddenly turned upside down.

“I’m doing awesome,” Friedman, 25, told anchor Meredith Vieira Monday on TODAY. “I’m determined. I’m going to marry him one way or another.”

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The accident occurred in Virginia Beach in May, a month before Friedman was to marry Chris Chapman, a seventh-grade science teacher from North Carolina. After attending a bachelorette party in her honor, Friedman and her girlfriends changed into bathing suits for a late-night swim.

Then came the push that changed Friedman’s life. It was just a playful tap from behind from a friend to get Friedman into the water. Unfortunately, the pool was only 3 and a half feet deep at the end into which Friedman plunged headfirst.

Rachelle Friedman immediately knew something was wrong. “As soon as I hit the water, I felt my body kind of stiffen up. I went numb and I kind of heard a crack in my neck,” she said.

The accident that changed Rachelle Friedman’s life happened after she and her bridesmaids attended a bachelorette party.

The sound Friedman heard was her C6 cervical vertebra fracturing when her head hit the bottom of the pool. She has had no feeling below her collarbone ever since. Doctors say she will never walk again.

“We were horsing around by the pool. It was a freak accident,” said Friedman. “I just went in the wrong way.”

Of course, the wedding plans were immediately put on hold. But as soon as she was able, Friedman began physical therapy to relearn how to use her arms and hands, albeit with limited range of motion.

“Every day’s a fight. There are so many things I am unable to do right now. You have to fight if you’re going to get there,” she said. “There is no use in being down in the dumps and depressed. It’s not going to get you anywhere.”

Chris Chapman (left), Rachelle Friedman's fiance, said he never once thought about leaving her after the accident.

The wedding is on
Friedman’s mother and brother stay with her during the day. The rest of the time, Chapman lovingly cares for the woman he still intends to marry.

“I never once thought about leaving her or the situation,” Chapman told Vieira. “It was simply a matter of: ‘We are a couple. We’re going to get through this,’ ” he said.

Many men would have been unable to cope with the constant care that someone with a permanent spinal injury requires. Chapman, however, said he will provide Friedman with all the love and care she’ll need.

“I certainly had moments where I felt it would be very difficult, and have had trouble coming to terms about what a future could be, but one day at a time we keep working through it,” he said.

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The couple intend to marry next summer, but first they have to overcome some hurdles. For one, Friedman may not qualify for Medicaid after her disability payments are coupled with her new husband’s salary.

And of course, they’ll have to redo the wedding invitations. The friend who pushed Friedman in the pool, whom Friedman declined to identify, will be among the invited guests.

“I didn’t have to forgive her; I never blamed her in the first place,” Friedman said of the friend, who she said was having “a hard time” getting over the incident emotionally. “It was a freak accident.”

As for Chapman, Friedman said she never had a doubt that he would stand beside her at the altar — albeit it a year later than planned, and with her in a wheelchair.

“I knew he’d be there for me,” she said. “If the roles had been reversed, I’d be there for him.”

For more information on Rachelle Friedman's condition, click here.  

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