Chattanoogan: Amy Bennett – Living, Not Just Existing

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

The compound word ‘healthcare’ no longer stands alone today as many have used the descriptive coined phrase ‘broken healthcare system’. After having an accident which left her with serious injuries, paramedic Amy Bennett of Harrison found herself caught up in the confusing maze of prescription pain killers, depression and defeat. To add to an already overwhelming situation, Amy was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia – a disease leaving most with debilitating pain and stealing their lives. Amy decided to fight back.

Born in little Rock, Amy was the adopted child of Steve and Sylvia Bennett. Steve was vice president of Miller-Reid Advertising before recently retiring. He had transferred to Chattanooga when Amy was just three years old. The couple would foster-parent temporarily, until children could be placed with permanent families. It was a way of life for Amy to see children come and go - along with the Lhasa Apso puppies the family bred and raised.

“I have loved animals since I was a little kid, and wanted to be a veterinarian. We always had animals in the house,” Amy says. “I have two horses now, but growing up I had always loved horses. I think my parents hoped I would grow out of it, but I never did. We didn’t have any horses so I would go to farms and work for free just to get riding lessons, and my parents would send me to horse camp every summer,” Amy says.

A tom-boy growing up, Amy loved to be outdoors camping, fishing or hiking. She attended MTSU studying animal science and biology but never finished veterinarian school. “I overloaded myself in school and was just burned out. I have worked with animals most of my life, but veterinary jobs don’t pay a lot in Chattanooga,” Amy says.

In 2004, Amy was working at Unum and was also in the Naval Reserves. She was about to be deployed just before a messy, winter night’s drive changed her life.

“It was drizzling and icy. I was talking to my fiancé on the speaker phone telling him I was a little worried with the road conditions and a car clipped my S10 pickup. My truck fish tailed and I rolled going down the side of the mountain. My fiancé heard the whole thing from the speaker. The only thing I could think of was ‘oh my gosh, I am going to die’,” Amy recalls.

The S10 pickup was thrown into surrounding trees, and the driver of an 18-wheeler pulled Amy out. "I was in Grundy County, but for some reason a Coffee County ambulance had picked me up taking me to Manchester Hospital. They may have just been traveling through,” Amy says.

Amy had head injuries, a broken nose, a chest contusion and back injuries. She was not sure at the time how or if she would fully recover. With overwhelming confusion of medical advice and having to obtain disability, Amy felt defeated and became depressed.

She and her fiancé ended up marrying in 2006 only be divorced a few years later as the stress of recovery while on a cocktail of multiple medications controlled her life. “We had just bought this farm in Franklin and I didn’t know what I was going to do. Pretty much, every day I just felt horrible,” Amy says.

Amy was put on Ultram, Hydrocodone, and Lyrica. “I have never been on illegal drugs, but I can imagine that is how you feel when you take acid. I felt like I wasn’t in my body - like it wasn’t reality,” Amy explains. The medication’s side effects had caused problems and other medications were prescribed to combat them, which in turn only caused more problems for Amy.

“I had a really bad reaction with Lyrica - like a hysteria reaction. I couldn’t walk straight and I was really weak and shaky. It felt like someone was taking a cattle prod and shocking my brain. My husband had them put me in the hospital and I was there for about a week while they weaned me off some of the meds. I just thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ I kept seeing patients on welfare and disability who weren’t able to do anything and - that is not me, I like to stay active,” Amy insists.

“I got really mad. I almost felt that if the doctors had been a little more aggressive in treating me in the beginning, I might not have been where I ended up. But because I was in a car wreck, a lot of doctors wouldn’t even touch me. I feel that so much time was wasted and it just damaged my muscles and the medications caused more problems – I felt like a walking pharmacy,” Amy says.

A show in Nashville called Dr. Asa Andrew got Amy’s attention as he described how natural, smarter choices could heal the body. “I got a lot of good ideas from him, and I wanted to try to manage my condition more naturally without medication,” Amy decided.

The year 2009 changed everything for her. After Amy’s divorce, she took control of her life again. She listened to her body and told physicians that she wanted to stop taking prescription medications.

“They were really interested in how I would do because they really didn’t think I would be able to manage it,” Amy says.

Amy used to take Yoga classes before her accident and she decided to start with that. “I worked through the pain and I noticed that the more active I was – the better I felt. If I let it go a few days in a row, it was always pretty tough starting back, so I have had to be strict about it,” Amy insists. 

“The first few months were really tough, but I haven’t taken pills for my fibromyalgia since 2009. Now I work out and I have a pretty physical job… I definitely had to just work through the pain first. With fibromyalgia the less you use your muscles, the more debilitated you get,” Amy says.

While facing the pain and sleepless nights head on, Amy continued to press on determined not to give in to getting back on medications that were not helping her to feel better or to have quality of life.

“I recalled some of the stuff I had heard from Dr. Andrew on the anti-inflammatory diet. I have to admit that I was eating a little better before I got into EMS,” Amy laughs. “Once I got into EMS my diet was horrible with fast food, easy grab food and energy drinks and, I was feeling horrible… I was exhausted.”

Amy had never had issues with her weight so for her eating healthy was not about losing weight, but it was about her health. She found that what she consumed would either harm her or benefit her body and she was determined to allow natural, healthy food to be part of her health plan.

“I didn’t ease into it – I jumped right in. I cut off sweet tea and sodas and just drank water for the longest time. I ate fruits and veggies, a small amount of protein but mostly I was vegetarian. I have added a few things back, but I have learned to start reading labels and learn good carbs and bad carbs. It takes a while to learn it and to discipline yourself, but I keep learning every day,” Amy says.

She enjoyed working out, but sometimes it would get boring and Amy wanted to kick it up a notch. Her friend Bernie introduced her to P90X and let her use a DVD and nutrition book.

“The warm up was more intense than some of the exercises and I thought, ‘This is insane’, but as I did more - it got easier and I was seeing amazing results,” Amy vows. “I see a difference in my mentality and energy level. I feel so much better and I am not exhausted anymore. I sleep normally and I don’t have to drink anything to help me wake up – I always have energy and I can definitely see a change.”

Amy worked as an EMT, but wanted to become certified as a paramedic and now works for Puckett EMS. She started buying supplements and products of Beachbody (Manufacturers of P90X) and eventually became a Beachbody coach.

“I wanted to be a coach just to get the discount, but then I thought, ‘I feel so much better since I started this and I want to help others feel better, eat better or lose weight.’ When I found out what was in all that fast food I had been eating – it was disgusting. I want to help people be healthier and not have to be on all these pills.”

Amy has been able to motivate others to take control of their health by the same natural methods she had found. From her time in hospitals observing patients to those she meets on the job, Amy realized that she could have been on a pathway of just existing.

“I saw the progression of what being on medication was doing to me. I would have probably ended up in a wheelchair and addicted to pain medication. I didn’t want that. I love my horses and it killed me when I couldn’t ride them. I like to show and compete and, with having a really physical job, I feel like I have overcome a lot,” she says.

“When I have a patient who says they have fibromyalgia and I tell them, ‘I do too…’ they look at me like I am crazy because I had just picked them up on a stretcher and put them in an ambulance,” Amy expresses. “The stretcher weighs more than I do!”

“A few have gotten a little mad about it because they see the disease as hopeless and like they just have to just sit there and waste away on all these medications – it is work, but you can get through it.” 

Amy encourages others to give up an hour of television and go for a walk or to do anything to stay active.

“I try to find ways that will help motivate people and to break down their excuses,” Amy says. “There is more to life than letting it pass you by.”

For information on Beachbody contact Amy at:

http://www.beachbodycoach.com/esuite/home/aebennett

jen@jenjeffrey.com


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