Lying lifeless in a hospital bed after a motorcycle crash, a then-atheist happened to hear her late grandmother’s voice. And the message forever changed her. Now a wheelchair user, but happier than ever before, she helps empower others with God in her heart.
Ohio native Jesi Stracham, 30, lives outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, working as a full-time orthodontic assistant. Back in 2015, her worldview and belief system were different, until the life-changing tragedy brought her “close to our Creator.”
“I was very self-centered. I was an atheist. I had no faith,” Stracham told The Epoch Times. "Honestly, the person I was is nothing like the person I am today; I care about people, I help people, I make that my priority—and that’s what gives me a lot of joy.
“Faith is everything ... you just feel the gratitude for your life and everything you have. It shows you that you’re connected with Creator, and you’re connected with God. That you’re doing His work and you’re on the right path.”
‘It’s Not Your Time’On Jan. 17, 2015, the day before her accident, Stracham attended the funeral of a friend’s grandmother.
“As the pastor was speaking, I felt a calmness come over me. It was like a warm calmness washed over me, from my head to my toes, and I felt like everything was going to be okay,” she recalled. “I just thought it was Granny’s passing ... in reality, it was not that; it was me and what I was going to go through the next day.”
The next day, on Jan. 18, Stracham ate dinner with a friend and then hopped onto the back of his motorcycle. Exiting Highway 85 onto Brookshire Boulevard toward downtown Charlotte, they were cut off by a woman in an SUV making a U-turn.
“She never slowed down and we hit her back passenger door,” said Stracham. “The driver went through her car, breaking his leg. I went over her SUV and broke my back in two places. My chest collapsed, and my ribs punctured my lungs and my spinal cord.”
Stracham also suffered a traumatic brain injury. In hospital, she coded twice and had to be resuscitated, but she wasn’t alone.
“I saw my own grandmother,” she said. “She told me, ‘Jesi Mae, it’s not your time, you can’t stay with me and I can’t stay with you. You have things to do and people to get back to.’”
After Stracham woke from her coma, she told her mother what she had seen and heard. Her grandmother had passed when she was young, but when she regaled her long-forgotten childhood nickname, “Jesi Mae,” her mother knew the vision had been real.
Finding FaithStracham attended summer church camp as a child and remembers believing in God “for a little bit,” but lost her faith as an adult.
She explained: “I went to atheism and believed in nothing. Then, the day before the accident, I was brought back to the Lord and saved—and given my purpose. I didn’t understand it all in the moment; God and faith were never really anything important to me until this happened.”
Stracham was transferred to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where she was offered an experimental spinal fusion surgery. Doctors claimed a neuro-scaffold implant was her only chance at regaining the ability to walk. She spent around three months in the hospital: three weeks in surgical trauma ICU, three weeks in rehabilitation, and a return visit to the hospital for a little over a month when she contracted an intestinal infection.
Seven of the 17 patients enrolled in the trial surgery saw a change for the better. Sadly, Stracham was not one of them. She took recovery into her own hands, making massive changes to her diet, mental health, and exercise regime. “I became very disciplined in those areas, and that’s when my body started to actually recover,” she said.
A year and three months after the accident, Stracham was reunited with a nurse from her resuscitation team.
“She couldn’t believe I was still alive,” Stracham said. “When you’re the patient, you don’t realize ... I died, I was resuscitated. My life almost stopped, my existence almost stopped, and then God was like, ‘Hey, I’m not done with you yet, you have things to do that are bigger than what you can even wrap your mind around.’
Stamina, Grit, and DisciplineFirst came Stracham’s appreciation for the enduring strength of her own body. She signed up for an annual extreme outdoor obstacle course, World’s Toughest Mudder, three years in a row with the support of her loved ones.
“My third World’s Toughest Mudder was definitely the most special because we were able to hit [our] mileage goal,” she said. “It was just very powerful and emotional, I think all of us were crying ... it’s really cool to see your mental stamina, mental grit, and discipline just grow to a place where there is no quit in you.”
Stracham suffers nerve and skeletal pain to this day, as well as bladder and bowel incontinence. The mental battle of overcoming her limitations is her second full-time occupation.
“Being 30, my friends are all having babies and getting married. I think that’s one of my biggest struggles right now,” she said. “But [my injury] was the greatest thing that could have ever happened to me. I am so much better off physically and mentally, financially, career-wise; every aspect of my life besides my physical being is better now than it was before.”
Stracham credits her mom for her strong work ethic and wants both her parents—who sacrificed their retirement savings to “give her everything” as a child—to see her thriving and happy before they pass.
Putting Faith Into ActionToday, Stracham says her faith is her super power.
“Before, I valued a lot of material items,” she said. “Now I value relationships and interactions, people, and the perspective that our struggles aren’t forever. It taught me gratitude for every day. I think the biggest thing is it made me want to help people, and not be so ’me-focused‘ but ’we-focused.' When you’re selfless, it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do.”
Stracham firmly believes that, just like we’re told in kindergarten, you can be whatever you want to be. Helping others realize their full potential is Stracham’s faith in action.
“It’s the amount of work you’re willing to put in for it,” she explained. “If I can help teach other people how to be happy, even though they’ve been through some really hard things, then we’re winning!”