Emily Colang's Life Changed on New Year's of 2014

For our March 2019 issue, we had the pleasure of learning how a woman named Emily Colang went from normal teen to spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Here's her story in her own words.

Photo by Nathan Dugan

Photo by Nathan Dugan

"As far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the idea of tattoos. I was in a tattoo shop when I was around eight or nine, looking through the sheets of flash, and knowing that I wanted to be covered in them one day. I got my first tattoo the morning of my 18th birthday. A magnolia on my chest for my niece who passed away as an infant (it’s her birth flower). Over the next year of my life, I collected a few tattoos here and there, but that was put on hold. On New Year’s of 2014, I was involved in a car accident. An accident that would change the lives of so many people, including myself. We were teenagers, it was New Year’s Eve, and we were drinking. I got a phone call saying our friend was hurt and needed our help. The four of us didn’t hesitate. We jumped in the car and went to help our friend in need. Unfortunately, we never got that chance. It was 3:00 am on New Year’s Day, the roads were dewy and the fog was thick. Next thing I knew, we had smashed into a tree at 60 mph. I was behind the driver and my friend James was sitting next to me. I watched and cried helplessly as he took his last breath. The next thing I remember is getting pulled out of the car and waking up in and out of a coma for a week. For the next two months, the hospital was my home. I had countless broken bones, my liver was lacerated, my ureter ripped from my kidney, my spleen burst (which they removed,) they removed parts of my small and large intestine, and my spinal cord ripped — which is why I am telling this story. When they finally took my breathing tube out I realized I couldn’t feel my legs. The doctors informed me that I was now paralyzed from the waist down. I couldn’t walk, stand, sit up, roll over in bed, or even go to the bathroom by myself. I’ve never felt so hopeless. The next couple years of my life were spent relearning how to take care of myself and how to live without depending on others. I would go out to dinner or go shopping and notice everyone staring at me. I knew they were staring because of my wheelchair and that made me feel awful. I decided to dye my hair bright pink and purple to give people something other than my chair to look at. And, all this time, I never stopped getting tattooed. By this point, I had two full sleeves and my legs were almost covered. I was already getting treated differently because of my situation, so I decided to get my hands and throat tattooed. I’ve never once regretted it. Tattoos are something I’ve always been passionate about. I love the aesthetic of tattoos, I appreciate the history behind them, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for tattooers and the community that I’ve become a part of."