Push Girls Episode 6 review: Fired Up

It was bound to happen, an episode that centers on the always delightfully controversial topic – stem cells. Drama ahoy (and swimming too)!


Episode six starts out with a nice shot of Mia driving her convertible, wearing black lace tights and a white lacy skirt. She meets Tiphany for a workout session, where they discuss the annoyances of working out so fiercely that you can’t transfer back into your car, and other such amusing foibles that only people with spinal cord injuries could get.

I think it’s great the show is having the girls explain their abilities post-injury, in relation to their specific injury location, which is (I’m sure) helping educate the masses.  Mia reveals she can still move two toes, and Tiphany can actually feel everything  (and move everything) from the mid-thighs up (lucky bitch). 

And we get to see Chelsie visit Project Walk, a therapy center in San Diego that helps people with paralysis walk again. Her trainer shows a cool way to explain what it feels like to be paralyzed (for the camera I’m guessing; not to Chelsie) is by folding your middle finger under itself, putting the rest of your fingers straight outwards and then trying to move that bent finger upwards as if it was still stretched out with the rest of the fingers.  Pretty cool trick.

Then all four girls have a pow-wow session at Angela’s. More stem cell and walking again talk. Angela talks about the adult stem cell treatment she had in Portugal, which worked to an extent (she got some more sensation back, and more strength in her arms).

The girls then head out to lunch and talk more about stem cells. Auti is vehemently against using embryonic stem cells, Mia meanwhile doesn’t think she needs to get cured and says her quality of life is great.  She complains about the human mentality to always wanted to “cure” everybody. Mia says, ” I don’t necessarily think I have to walk to have a better life.” Angela’s response? “BS.”

Tiphany has accepted her injury, but would still like to walk again. “I don’t want to sit forever.  That’s not my goal in life,” says Tiphany, “but if I could get better, yes I’d love to.”

But Tiphany makes a great point despite Mia’s words. “I don’t get how Mia can say paralysis hasn’t taken anything from her when she hasn’t swam in 17 years.” This brings up a great point.  Do you think people with paralysis, in an effort to make their lives easier, lie to themselves?

“All I want to do is walk again,” Chelsie cries. “Is that too much to ask?” Could her river of tears be any more annoying?  She needs to visit Gabi, this little four year old girl with SMA who can’t move a thing, and then realize how lucky she is in the grand scheme of things.

Angela visits the Reeve-Irvine Paralysis Research Center (part of the University of California), to see what’s up with spinal cord injury research. They meet with the director of the facility, who explains the stem cell research they’re doing (they use leftover eggs from in-vitro treatments).  The director shows some pretty cool images of recent research strides they’ve made (in mice of course) where they’ve been able to regenerate portions of the damaged spinal cord and get connections to pass through it once again.

Angela then tells him how important it would be just to get her hand function back, and gets him to cry (as well as herself) when she talks about just wanting to be able to reach up and touch someone’s face by opening her hand.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t take any doctor or researcher’s “promise” that we will walk again in our lifetime, or any other promise like that (he says getting people back two levels of return is possible in our lifetimes). Angela needs to stop going to him to make her feel better, as if he’s some kind of priest or something.

And Chelsie gets walking again (sorta) at Project Walk using a walker.  It’s not walking, it’s walk-assist, but it makes her feel good and is good cardio, so I’m not going to knock it too much.

And then all four girls, along with Chelsie, decide to go out for lunch where the controversial stem cell talk continues.  Chelsie gets grilled by Auti on Project Walk and everything they do (glad to hear they tell people from the get-go that they’re not miracle workers; I’ve always wondered this).  Chelsie admits that the main things about Project Walk aren’t really about walking, but about helping you stay moving,  i.e. keeping your circulation and bone density in-check.

“I learned not to live for hope, but to just live,” Auti says about adjusting to her injury. “Because if you live for hope, life passes you by.” Godamn I love Auti’s kernel’s of wisdom.

Chelsie ends up having a breakdown at the table after Mia and Auti both pretty much say they’re happy they’re accidents happened and enjoy their missions in life. “I don’t think she’s accepted her paralysis yet,” Mia says.  Well of course she hasn’t. She hasn’t even hit the 2 year mark of her injury.  It takes at least 3 years to get to the, “OK I’m OK with this” stage.

“I’m not glad this happened to me that all whatsoever,” Chelsie says. “I would do stem cells in a heartbeat,” she admits. “No questions asked.” “She wants to be like us,“ Mia says. “But I don’t think Chelsie wants to be like us in the fact that we’ve accepted being in the wheelchair.”

“I don’t think it’s fair that I have to suffer and try to inspire all of these people to do things when I’m not getting a benefit at all.” “Everyone else got a second chance walking from that car, why not me?” How many of you can relate to this?

“It’s not something you get over. It something you get used to,” Auti says. “Once I looked at myself like there’s nothing wrong with me,” Mia says. ” I was so much happier.” Chelsie is SO lucky to have the support of these women in her early days. She has no idea.

As Mia talks about paralysis not taking anything from her, Tiphany calls her out. “Well, why haven’t you swam in the last 17 years then?” Mia, knowing Tiphany is right, decides it’s finally time to go swimming again. She goes to the pool at her gym and finally conquers her fear. She talks about how she avoided swimming after her injury because she was worried it would feel different and would be let down. “I think I’d feel like getting paralyzed really took something I cared about the way for me,” she says.

“Putting my feet in the water was really weird because I couldn’t feel the temperature,” she says about first getting in. “I’m afraid of feeling weak, of feeling limited and feeling trapped.” But when Mia gets in the pool, she feels light “in a good way,” and knew she could swim the whole length of the pool. “And I thought OK, this is doable.” Loved this.

“At any age you can begin again,” she says. Another great quote from dear Mia. She needs to write a book I swear to god.

So there you have it, rabid stem cell talk, Angela is desperate to get better, so is Chelsie, but Auti and Mia say no way. I’m really glad Push Girls is hitting all of these notes of life with a spinal cord injury. The stem cell issue is not going away for a long time.

What do you think about stem cells? Would you or wouldn’t you?

  1. Good lord, I hope this little box has enough room for what I’m about to spew your way… it’s ridiculous that I’ve not commented before as I’ve kept up with your blog for YEARS now.

    Thanks so much for posting reviews of Push Girls episodes. I don’t have Sundance and haven’t taken the time to pay for any episodes or hunt down free ones, so I’ve only seen the first episode and the free clips that are available.

    So reading all the quotes you transcribed… yes, they very much hit home. Really good stuff in there, and I love how the show appears to be doing a good job of showing the different perspectives. You’ve got different levels of injury, people at different places because the amount of time post-injury varies, then there’s the fact that SCI affects us all so individually, physically and mentally.

    And yeah, I can totally relate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve joked with my friends, “I never wanted to be the poster girl for paraplegics” or “Once again, I prove I’m the worst para ever!” But I’ll tell you, I’m fast approaching the 20th anniversary of my car accident (8/8/92), and starting to feel a shift in perspective…

    We all have to make some life choices after being injured, and I chose the route I was most comfortable with. My family and I were told “Oh, they’ll have a cure within 10 years” and we bought into that some, but not wholly. So I chose to pretty much go on with life the way I’d planned on doing prior to my injury… I went off to college and went to work, did a lot of the things I wanted to as best I could.

    Am I a little bitter there’s no cure? Maybe, but I’m not surprised… and my reasons why are a long, involved conversation we can’t really have here. Suffice to say at the age of 37 I fully expect to spend the rest of my life using a chair. Would I do stem cell therapy? Depends… on a lot of things.

    I’ve participated in a couple of clinical trials, one immediately after I was injured, which I started before I’d even left shock/trauma. The other I did more than 10 years post-injury. I’m definitely pro participation there, and I like that I was able to contribute and help out in that respect.

    But as I get older, there’s just a lot less I’m willing to do (which wasn’t much as it was… not too hard to just swallow a pill, you know?). So it depends on what’s involved in the stem cell therapy they come up with. And it depends on whether they’d even take someone like me, what with being 20 years post and not physically taking care of myself like I should have (I did say I was the worst para ever, right?). And then I feel like researchers have sort of abandoned us (there’s that bitterness seeping out)… and I understand, to an extent. There’s the money problem, and then you have the fact that some of the things they’ve come up with haven’t produced spectacular results for SCI patients… but certainly better results for other conditions, so why not focus on those? Anyway, my point there is just, for me personally, I feel a little like, screw it, why bother? Why not focus on some other things?

    Here’s where my perspective is starting to shift… I haven’t taken care of myself. Some of it is just excuses… I should have made the time… yadda yadda yadda… but I’ve been busy going to school, working, living life. And maybe it’s that I’m approaching my middle years and starting to feel some of the effects of aging in general and aging with paraplegia. But for me, I think I might be focusing on that some more… living out the years I have left well, and healthy. But well and healthy for their own sake, not with hopes that I’ll walk again. (More like in hope that I can continue to push my fat ass around without being out of breath… you know, the simple things in life!)

    Living with SCI really is such an individual experience, and I totally get how people come to different conclusions about the choices to make, the things you want to do with living life your way, on your terms. At least some of the freedom we have there wasn’t taken away from us.

    Oh, and for the record, Tiff… LOVE you.

  2. Tiff–great recap of the program. I think it was the most powerful one to date.

    To answer your question(s) I think stem cell research, just like other forms of research is great. If stem cell research found a cure for SCI (a scientifically tested, scientifically peer reviewed stem cell cure) I’d go for it in a heartbeat.

    I thought the segment at the Reeve center explaining stem cell research–including explaining how they use parts (meaning parts from one egg yields countless material for tests and treatments) of left over eggs from in-vitro treatments eggs that would otherwise end up as medical waste–was informative and important. Especially important after Auti’s clueless statement that “stem cells come from fetuses”.

    I thought they skimmed over Angela’s stem cell treatment in Portugal too quickly–leaving the audience with the impression that the stem cell part of the treatment is what caused the improvement in sensation and movement, when there is zero evidence of this. Yes, Angela got improvement–they did de-scarring/de-tethering of the spinal cord injury when they added the stem cells. De-scarring is a dangerous, difficult surgery usually done to help with additional SCI loss and sometimes results in more sensation and movement.

    I really like how the women call each other on their BS!

    Keep up the great work!

  3. One more thing…

    Great job on pointing out Project Walk. I was also glad to hear that they say they are not miracle workers. If somebody has the money, it looks like a great rehab place to learn how to make the most out of what you have and keep yourself as healthy as possible. I also like how Auti grills Chelsie about Project Walk “The name WALK.”

    I appreciate how you point out Chelsie isn’t *walking* in the walker–as you say it is good for bones, joints, cardio, but she is upright because the therapist/trainer is pushing on her knees, moving her feet etc. or as Woody says to Buzz in Toy Story–“That’s not flying. It’s falling with style.”

  4. @Jen and Bob glad you guys commented! 🙂 was worried no one was reading my reviews! Can’t wait to see what other topics they’ll be covering.

    And Jen, love your quote “Once again, I prove I’m the worst para ever!” lol

    Oh to be a para!

  5. Great summary/commentary. Maybe you should have a show? 🙂

  6. @Ian – Yes yes sign me up! I don’t think my show would be as PG however.

  7. Ok, so Push Girls may not be all-inclusive of the issues surrounding sci, but the show gives some decent information and insight on the subject. I like it. Hopefully some of my estranged friends can gain some insight on the subject, no matter how glamorous it may seem.
    I was thinking about something, and I don’t know how feasible it is. What about a fictional show about a person/people post successful stem cell therapy? Say, someone 10 years post injury. A stranger in a strange land. How would they react, how would their MOTHERS react, how about friends? What would they do? Where would they go?
    Just some food for thought.

  8. Tiffany,

    Your “Oh to be a para” comment reminds me of a line from John Callahan’s autobiography. “Upper level quads (vent dependent) wish they were lower -level quads, lower-level quads with they were paras, paras wish they were able-bodied and the able-bodied wish they were Jane Fonda.”

    If folks don’t know Callahan you should check him out. Funny and irreverent, he left this world too soon. http://www.callahanonline.com

    *For those under 40, Jane Fonda was quite the fitness guru for several years with 6-pack abs, chiseled arms and quads that could crush a coconut.

  9. LOL @ the Jane Fonda quote Rachel (hi btw!). LOVE Callahan…..so glad he’s still around

  10. I think it is true that people with paralysis, in an effort to make their lives easier, lie to themselves.

    About stem cell therapies – To cure spinal cord injury stem cell could be a part of the cure but IMO it is unlikely stem cells alone can cure SCI. Maybe studying stem cells we will understand how to activate the self reparing mecanism of our body that fails after a severe SCI. Let’s support SCI research and a cure will happen, the more we support it the sooner it will happen.


  11. I dont all think people with paralysis lie to themselvesat all, in fact we look at things more truthfully w/ deadon reality than any other group. Thats the attraction you find when you meet someone w/ an SCI, we dont sugar coat things and our delivery is usually refreshingly honest. In the beginnig yes, you must lie to yourself to keep yourself going..but then as time goes by and u learn ur own internal strength, that idea becomes just a sliver of “maybe, one day”. You adapt to survie, because it is Survival of the Fittest.
    And i agree that Mia is bullshitting herself when she said she was ok with never walking again, we all still want that liberation from our dead weight that we push around.

  12. Nice Post. It is useful. Thanks. Cheers.

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