SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – AnnaMaria Kiaresh considers herself neither a hero nor a person who has done something extraordinary.
But if it helps anyone to use her difficult journey for motivation, she’s OK with that.
“If I can be your inspiration, I’ll be your inspiration. Even if I can just be a model to let you know it can be done. It wasn’t an easy journey for me. But just don’t give up. Don’t give up,” Kiaresh said in an interview in the moot courtroom at Western New England University School of Law in Springfield.
On June 15, 2003, the then-17-year-old Kiaresh was riding her bicycle when she had a bad fall. Since that day she has been paralyzed from the chest down.
In an interview soon after the accident, she talked of her goal of becoming a lawyer for a corporation. Now, 11 difficult years later, she is just that.
Kiaresh, 28, graduated from the law school this spring. She already has been hired as in house associate counsel for Farm Credit Financial Partners in Agawam, Mass., a company where she interned last year. She starts this summer a week after she takes the Massachusetts and Connecticut bar exams.
“It’s a great environment, and I’m so lucky,” she said of the new job.
Kiaresh has struggled hard both to maintain as much independence as possible and to accept sometimes needing assistance. Most of all she wants to be viewed like everyone else.
Among the questions she said she gets are: “Why do you smile so much?” “Don’t you just want to say f--- everything, be in bed and be miserable?”
Said Kiaresh: “I’m like, ‘Absolutely not.’ From the second I fell and my mom had gotten the phone call from my cousin ... and I heard my mom’s voice screaming as I was getting in the ambulance and I knew I couldn’t feel my legs, I had to automatically click in my head ‘OK, focus because if anything, you’re going to kill your mom and your family with you.’”
Seven months after her accident, she started college in January 2004.
When Kiaresh was an undergraduate at Western New England University in Springfield, she had three surgeries.
When she finished her undergraduate degree, she had another operation, and then couldn’t start law school right away.
Kiaresh explained the accident severed her spine.
“They fused it from the initial injury down to T7. In 2005, from the metal rubbing on T8, it deteriorated the bone, so it pushed out half of the rod, so they fused down to T9,” she said.
Then her spine started curving. Because Kariesh is paralyzed from the chest down, in order to balance herself in the chair she would bend forward a lot.
“Now I can’t do it because my spine is so straight,” she said. “In 2011 at Massachusetts General Hospital, they fused me from the front and the back, and in the middle of my spine I have a metal cage. I am metaled up so much it’s not even funny. That operation took 171/2 hours.”
Because Kiaresh can’t lean forward, it makes it hard to push her chair up steep ramps, she said.
Health problems meant two hospitalizations her last year of law school, including a 10-day stay at Christmas and New Year’s Day.
She also missed part of the fall semester.
“Thank God for the school and thank God for the faculty, because they were absolutely accommodating. My classes were recorded for me. I could listen to them, take my notes, take my exams in an appropriate setting,” Kiaresh said.
The first year of law school really was difficult.
“Dealing with my disability and side effects of medication, it was kind of hard for me,” she said. “I was sitting 16 hours a day, just like literally living in the library.
“After class (I was) going there and doing all my reading and all my assignments and just trying to remember to eat and to remember to do things that I naturally had to do. Always in the wheelchair. I literally lived in the library,” she said.
Professors treated her just like everybody else.
“I absolutely appreciate that more than anything because I don’t like being looked at like I’m different,” she said.
Kariesh is uncomfortable when people put her on too high a pedestal.
“I get that you appreciate the fact that I’ve gone through so much difficulty and I still achieved the goal that I set for myself,” she said. “But there are so many people who have done so much more and are so much more of an inspiration,” she said.