Giving Back to Our Own: Tzu Chi Volunteers Assist Drunk-Driving Crash Survivor With Rehabilitation

Northeast  |  February 22, 2022
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Physiotherapist Jiaxin Zhang guides Nancy, a Tzu Chi USA volunteer and survivor of a drunk-driving accident, through the rehab. Photo/Tzu Chi NY

Written by Weiling Wang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Maggie Morgan

Nancy Tituaña recounted her traumatic experience after she was hit by a drunk driver while volunteering for a COVID-19 relief food distribution for the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation.  

“During the three months after I woke up, I could barely sleep, I was screaming and wailing because of the pain, and if I closed my eyes, it was because I was unconscious from the pain…”

Tituaña, a Hispanic volunteer of Brigada de Esperanza NY was involved in the serious accident in June 2020. As she was getting out of her car to deliver groceries to families impacted by the pandemic, a drunk driver plowed into her from behind at a high speed. One of Nancy’s leg had to be amputated, and the other suffered multiple fractures. Nancy needed to be resuscitated, and though fortunately her life was saved, it had changed drastically in just a few moments. 

Nancy now relies on a prosthetic leg to help her carry out her day-to-day activities. “According to the doctor, I have to spend two years to get back on my feet,” said Tituaña.

A Fighter First

Nancy walked on New York City streets accompanied by her physical therapist, Jiaxin Zhang. The sun was shining as she walked little by little, Jiaxin Zhang by her side teaching her to control her movements and reduce her pain.

“The first time I came to visit her, she could barely walk, she was so afraid of walking…” said Jiaxin Zhang, a volunteer for the Tzu Chi International Medical Association, or TIMA. Zhang works in the neighborhood where Nancy lives and pays her a visit whenever he finishes for the day.

Before the rehabilitation begins, Master Zong Chuan, who is also a TIMA volunteer, treated Nancy’s remaining leg and the rest of her body with acupuncture. “She is now receiving acupuncture treatment, but after the treatment, we will do some exercises.”

As Nancy did sit-ups, push-ups, leg lifts, arm and muscle strengthening, she did not complain nor yell for pain. Her eyes were determined as she put her all into every step.

Physiotherapist Jiaxin Zhang guides Nancy through the rehab. Photo/ Tzu Chi NY

A Ray Of Sunshine, Despite The Storm

Nancy’s relationship with Tzu Chi began when her organization, Brigada de Esperanza NY, teamed up with Tzu Chi’s Northeast Regional Office. Together, the organizations conducted weekly mass fruit and vegetable distributions for disadvantaged Hispanic families in Queens following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020.  Tzu Chi NY is an incredibly active part of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation as they rise to the challenge of serving the bustling melting pot that is New York City.

Whenever Nancy was volunteering, she was always present and full of energy, inspiring and lifting the morale of team members and beneficiaries alike. The strong-willed woman was the soul of the distribution; her demeanor revealed perseverance, passion, and selflessness as she brought a smile to even the most saddened faces.

“At home, I have my mother and two brothers, I have three children, my eldest daughter is 24 years old, she is happily married,” Nancy said as she explained her great love of family. 

Like so many warrior-like spirits, Nancy’s strength comes from her struggles: “My life has many stories. Unfortunately, I was raped at the age of 12 and gave birth to my oldest daughter when I was 13…but I decided not to blame this little life, she was born, she grew up, now I’m a grandmother to two grandchildren!” 

Without an ounce of bitterness or despair, Nancy reflects fondly on the blessings she has received through a life full of obstacles.

This same resilience and positivity is what kept Nancy from breaking down when she almost lost the lower half of her body to a drunk driver. A tremendous pain, both physical and spiritual, burrowed itself into her during the days and nights of recovery. Her light continued to shine even during the darkest hours of her life, and because of this people see the same Nancy that they did before the accident: a piece of sunshine. When someone would ask her how she deals with the pain, Nancy would simply laugh and say “I would try to scare away the pain!”

Before the accident, Nancy was an important volunteer officer for Brigada de Esperanza New York. Photo/Tzu Chi NY

The accident may have taken away Nancy’s mobility, but it could not take away her laughter.  Brighter than anyone else’s in the room, Nancy’s smile is as authentic as it gets without any semblance of pretending to be strong—she just is. Nancy believes that she will eventually be able to once again become the master of her life, like she has so many times before, and a sense of hope has carried her through her healing.

As Nancy put it so eloquently: "Despite the reality, I maintain a positive mindset, and some may even say, how can I still be able to laugh? My answer is, why not?

Volunteer to Recipient: Tzu Chi As A Family

After Nancy’s several surgeries, Tzu Chi’s Northeast Regional Office took the next logical step and listed the distribution partner as a Tzu Chi care case, visiting her every month throughout recovery.

Nancy gratefully noted what the organization has done for her in her time of need: “To me, Tzu Chi (volunteers) are like family, they bring me daily necessities and cash cards that allow me to buy necessities.” The volunteers wanted Nancy to worry about nothing except her recovery.

Every month, Tzu Chi volunteers bring supplies and cash cards to Nancy to ease her burden and help her focus on her rehabilitation. Photo/Tzu Chi NY

“Nancy’s desire to return and serve her community has made her work hard and empowered her… this positive energy has infected us” said Conde Cabrera, a volunteer of Brigada de Esperanza New York.

Cabrera knows Nancy personally from their history of serving the community side by side, and he knows that Nancy will not surrender, nor will she passively accept the doctor’s analysis of getting back on her feet in “two years”.

“We thought about getting physical therapy for her, but we didn’t have the funds and we didn’t know how to proceed”, said Judge Carmen Velásquez, Executive Director of Brigada de Esperanza NY.

All of Nancy’s companions were at a loss and knew they needed to do something to alleviate the burdens she faced. Tzu Chi Northeast’s team were determined to help Nancy speed up her recovery. The compassionate circle that embodies the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s mission may never be illustrated more clearly than with our team giving back to one of its own.

Over the past few months, Nancy has continued to receive free rehabilitation and acupuncture treatments with the help of volunteers from TIMA. So far, the treatments have provided relief for Nancy’s pain, but not without her hard work and focus to push it forward.

“Yes, the pain is much less now, but that’s also because I do basic exercises every day”, Nancy said.

Master Zong Chuan performs regular acupuncture treatments for Nancy. Photo/ Video Screenshot

When the acupuncture treatment started, Nancy had no reaction or sensation in her leg, but now she is happy just to feel something from the treatments. Master Zong Chuan said, “[Nancy] also had a fracture in her other leg, which was a very serious injury, but the doctors did well with the surgery and her leg bones should be healing.” 

Watching Master Zong Chuan stick needles in the affected areas, Nancy would tightly close her lips and frown, the acupuncture was working. The power was building up in her leg that was marked with a dark scar. Nancy responded regarding the alternative treatment, “I’ve been feeling better and better since the day I started therapy.”

Thank the Lord that I can stand up and walk in less than a year. Yes, we overcame all the the odds! In less than a year!”, Nancy said joyously.

During the most recent distribution, a moment came that everyone had been looking forward to. Judge Carmen was emotional when seeing Nancy, who was donning her light blue Brigada de Esperanza New York volunteer uniform. She walked up on crutches and Carmen greeted her with a big hug.

“Tzu Chi possesses the power to bring happiness to people, they bring her (Nancy) joy and hope, and someone is always there to help her! It really means a lot to help people like Nancy who are serving the community,” Carmen exclaimed.

Although Nancy was not able to participate in the distribution for long, the site was once again filled with her presence, her smile, and her testimony of hope that she will never give up on life.

Returning to the food distribution site to serve disadvantaged families is what motivates Nancy to speed up her recovery. Photo/Tzu Chi NY

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