TIME photo essay

‘Raising My Head High’: A 16-Year-Old With Quadriplegia Goes to Her Prom

Ten years after a car accident that left her paralyzed and following years of uncertainty, 16-year-old Gena Buza attends her junior prom.

In October 2003, six-year-old Gena Buza and her younger sister, Sophie, were riding in a car, their grandmother at the wheel, when the grandmother lost control of the vehicle and it smashed into a tree. Gena was thrown from her seat and suffered a bruised spinal cord that left her paralyzed from the chest down. She is considered quadriplegic.

One might expect that this is the beginning of a tale that ends in broken dreams and heartache. But the heartache wore off, the dreams have evolved and Gena is today a remarkable 16-year-old with a story to tell. I have been photographing “Gena, In Constant Motion” since 2012. Below, Gena shares a poem recounting a day that changed everything and about how she has rebuilt her life. — Taylor Baucom

I Remember. . .

The grass, a field of delicate green prickles
Between my toes
Cold but freeing
Yet memorable

I remember. . .

Dancing on Sundays
Ballet steps and pastel dresses
Twirling till I fall
Just to see it flow

I remember. . .

Our driveway
Hot sun beating down
Blacktop imprints on my soles
Curiosity left behind

I remember. . .

Jumping and leaping
On the trampoline with my father
In the late afternoon
Under the shadows of the sunset

I remember. . .

Taking the adventure
Up and up the steep craggy hill
Just a rock

I remember. . .

The backseat of my grandmother’s car
The taste of peanut butter lingers
A carefree afternoon
Shattered within moments

I remember. . . ?

Then red
My grandmother
Distant sounds
Helicopter blades
Then putrid smells
Of oxygen and hospital
Sounds everywhere but no vision
Distant beeping
Paced but constant

I remember. . .

Laying there
Strength I remember having
Gone now

I remember. . .

Wanting to get up
But my body isn’t listening
Like the signals have been cut
Never to be used again

But can’t hold a fork
Having to be fed
Like a baby

Sitting up
No muscle strength to balance
Now a struggle
And a fear

I was six
I remember

For the first time in months
Now watching friends
Play our old games
Feeling left out

Saturday nights spent
Staring at Sundays dresses
Crying out at nothing
Just to be able to spin one last time

Yeah, I remember. . .

Dancing on weekday nights
In the living room for my parents
Trying to pretend
Trying to forget

I remember. . .

My purpose
Why I am here

I remember. . .
Finally seeing it for what its worth
Raising my head high
Rather than bowing in hopelessness
I will not accept defeat

I am. . .

A different person. . .

A better person. . .

I am


Taylor Baucom is a visual journalist based in New York City

Baucom’s work was brought to LightBox’s attention by Katie Hogin

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com


Dear TIME Reader,

As a regular visitor to TIME.com, we are sure you enjoy all the great journalism created by our editors and reporters. Great journalism has great value, and it costs money to make it. One of the main ways we cover our costs is through advertising.

The use of software that blocks ads limits our ability to provide you with the journalism you enjoy. Consider turning your Ad Blocker off so that we can continue to provide the world class journalism you have become accustomed to.

The TIME Team