YMCA program inspires East Providence woman to help others


BARRINGTON — Through perseverance and the support of the Bayside YMCA community, city resident Melissa Major has overcome some substantial physical obstacles caused by a nasty car accident to become an inspiration and instructor for others.

Several years ago, everything seem on the right track for the then 22-year-old. Ms. Major was in her last year of study for a degree in Chemistry, was engaged to be married and had a good job. Life was going well.

Everything changed for her one night, however, as she was driving home from taking her fiancée to work. Slick road conditions led to her losing control of her car on a steep hill, hydroplaning down and crashing into traffic on the busy street below.

After being transported from the accident scene to the Emergency Room at Kent Hospital, she then was taken by ambulance to Rhode Island Hospital. She had sustained major injuries, breaking both bones in her leg and shattering her ankle.

Ms. Major would remain in hospital for six weeks. The swelling in her leg was a problem, and the pain killers were not doing their job. She had massive nerve damage, describing the feeling as like having "bees in her leg." The risk of infection was high, and doctors told her she might never walk again and could possibly even lose her foot.

During her hospital stay, and the subsequent five surgeries and four years of physical therapy, Ms. Major was forced to drop out of school. She also lost her job and her health insurance, and her relationship ended.

She had to give up her apartment and move in with her grandparents in Riverside. Her credit plummeted and her bills began to mount. Her physical therapist had to stop treatment due to her inability to pay. Needless to say, she sank into depression.

Before her physical therapist left, though, she recommended aquatic therapy, suggesting she check out a YMCA pool.

“There is no way that I can afford that," Ms. Major said of her thoughts at the time.

With nowhere else to turn, however, she walked into the Bayside Y in Barrington.

“I felt welcome immediately,” she said. “They talked to me about financial aid, and recommended the Arthritis Foundation water class.”

Although she approached that first class with some trepidation, Ms. Major soon found that the Y, her instructor and her classmates were supportive and friendly.

“They went so out of their way for me,” she said. “Everyone in the class was dealing with pain, just like me. They could relate. It really broke down all the walls I had built up. It meant so much to me.”

After the last session, her classmates took her out to lunch. She had made so much progress that program coordinator Edna Kurtzman asked her to teach the class next time. They had to make some adjustments to the process at first to accommodate Ms. Major's mobility level, but she took to it like a champ. Before long, she was helping with swimming lessons, too.

“The first class I shadowed was the baby class, which requires singing,” she quipped. “But I jumped in.”

Today, Ms. Major is a regular at the Bayside Y, teaching all levels of swim lessons. The baby and youth classes are her favorites, and watching her sing to the babies in the pool is truly touching. She will need more surgeries in the future, but her healing has come a long way, and she credits her Y experience with a great deal of her progress.

“Physical therapy can only do so much,” she said, adding, “It is so easy to meet people at the Y. The emotional and social connections I’ve made here have made all the difference.”

Ms. Major is proud to be able to help her grandparents now, driving them to appointments and helping around the house. And she is saving up to go back to school someday, maybe to work with kids.

— By Kim Stowell



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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.