Pineville resident Candice Cain said that as soon as the clock struck 7:45a.m. Aug.26, tears began streaming down her face.
That was the time of the first bell of the first day of school at Alexander Graham Middle School.
But instead of standing in front of a bunch of sixth-graders introducing herself as their math teacher for the year, Cain was lying in a hospital bed hundreds of miles away, facing the question of whether shed be able to walk again.
To help her, friends held a fundraising dinner Dec.5 at Elwoods Barbeque and Burger Bar; 20percent of proceeds went toward helping Cain with her medical bills.
We thought it would be a good way to give back to the community, especially to someone whos going through such a tough time, said Elwoods co-owner Dan Anderson, who said he doesnt know Cain personally.
Cains former colleague Elizabeth Pierce said she hopes to have a fundraiser once a month to continue to help Cain recover.
In what friends have called a freak accident, Cain fell while walking up wooden stairs Aug. 14 during a Garden City Beach vacation. What should have been a simple fall has resulted in a lengthy hospital stay because Cain had an undiagnosed pre-existing condition.
Four of her spinal discs were severely damaged as a result of the fall and her undetected degenerative arthritis. Cain was paralyzed from the neck down, leaving her a quadriplegic.
One of the first memories I had was watching a doctor taking a wooden stick and running it from head to toe and looking at me, waiting for a response, said Cain. It terrified me because I realized I was completely paralyzed from my shoulders.
Doctors operated on her back, removing the C3 through C6 discs near the top of the spine at the base of the neck and replacing them with titanium.
At the end of August, Cain was transported from the Grand Strand Regional Trauma Center in South Carolina to the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta.
For three and a half months, Candice learned how to function with limited mobility. Although she could take steps with a walker, she still needs a wheelchair for longer distances.
In early December, Cain returned to Charlotte. During the fundraiser at Elwoods, she reunited with friends and colleagues for the first time in months.
Cain will continue outpatient rehabilitation at Carolinas Medical Center.
Although doctors told her that about 30percent of people with her type of spinal-chord injury end up walking again, Cain said shes very determined to go back to my job.
I cant imagine not working, she said. I cant imagine doing any other job. Teaching is where its at for me.
Jamie Brooks, principal of Community House Middle School, described Cain as an outstanding math teacher who consistently performs at a level near the top of all math teachers in the district.
Cain was one of the original teachers Community House Middle, which opened in 2005. She transferred to Alexander Graham Middle in 2012.
Cain had a way of reaching students with her lively lessons and cheerful attitude, said Brooks; yet she also commanded respect from students and had strong classroom management skills.
Its devastating to think there are kids missing out on her mathematics instruction, because shes the best in the business, said Brooks. She knows how to teach math to middle school children.
As testament to how much they value her, students at Alexander Graham Middle recently held a talent show to raise money for Cains medical fees.
Cain even was able to watch the talent show from Atlanta using an iPhones FaceTime application.
It was amazing, said Cains friend Bryant Curtis, who has been staying with Cain in Atlanta. She cried through the entire thing. It was very, very touching.
Curtis said he believes it will be the same determination that made Cain a success as a math teacher that will get her back to teaching soon.
She went through an unbelievable trauma and shes persevered through all of it, he said. Shes had her ups and downs, but shes a very strong person.
Shes a very strong-willed, determined lady, said Brooks. We all need to keep her in our thoughts and be willing to be there for her in any way we can, because she was always there for our students.
Cain said it has been the support of her friends and family that has helped keep her strong over the last few months.
I was overwhelmed I had so many people that cared about me, said Cain. Theres no way I could have done this without the help of all of my friends and family. Theyve just uplifted me
When I see people believe in me, it makes me want to work even harder, it really does.
Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less