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Utah Teacher Returns To Classroom After Being Paralyzed By Ocean Wave

EAGLE MOUNTAIN, Utah – A Utah teacher is back in the classroom after a terrible injury turned her life upside-down.

Chelsie Gustafson, 36, teaches first grade at Hidden Hollow Elementary School in Eagle Mountain.

For 11 years, Gustafson has dedicated her life to teaching children.

“That moment when you see the lightbulb go off is so rewarding,” she said.

She felt like she was starting over when she returned to school.

“Coming back was terrifying,” said Gustafson. “It felt like your first day all over again.”

Gustafson had to take a four-month leave of absence, and not by choice.

She was in Laguna Beach, California, with her family when she suffered a terrible injury last October. She was playing in the ocean with her nieces when a huge wave crashed on top of her.

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“I hit into the ground. I felt my back pop immediately and I blacked out for a minute,” Gustafson said. “It was like that moment, you know something’s wrong.”

Something was definitely wrong. Gustafson was in the ICU for a week and the crash partially severed her spine, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

“The chances of me walking again are slim. There’s a possibility, but I’m mostly prepared to be in a wheelchair for a long, long while,” she said.

Gustafson may not be able to walk, but when she wheeled into her classroom for the first time, her students couldn’t have been happier to see her.

“I missed her because I like her as our teacher,” said Kylee Morphis.

“I love you. I missed you so much,” said Trevor Bjornberg.

Even though she moves a little differently now, Gustafson still has a way of making her students laugh.

“She has a wheelchair and her bellybutton to her toes don’t work anymore, so if her legs fall off, we have to let her know,” said Morphis.

On that day, a group of first graders learned how much they missed their teacher.

“They wanted to hug me and I needed them to. I needed to know that I still belonged here,” said Gustafson.

But Gustafson learned a lesson, too.

“I have a purpose. I have a purpose. And peace comes from that, knowing that,” she said.

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