Firefighter Wellness Testimonial: Stephanie Wowk

You’re going to have to deal with adversity in life, that’s just part of it. The fire department is no different.

I faced it as soon as was sworn in. On October 13, 2015, I officially became a member of the Saint James Volunteer Fire Department and proudly joined Heavy Rescue Co. No. 9. Coming into this, I understood the risks and challenges that every firefighter is faced with. But, I also understood my own.

Up to that date, I had undergone three shoulder surgeries (one left, two right) due to a potential connective tissue disorder that compromised my joint stability in my entire body. In January of 2016, my clavicle was snapped in half at the FASNY Winter Games. I was quick to recover and determined to be an active member again.

After completing my Firefighter 1 course in June 2016, I had a misfortunate spill in the truck bay and severely dislocated my right shoulder. At this point I averaged around one dislocation every two weeks, which I fortunately, but painfully, “Macgyvered” back in on my own. However, this one was a different story. I learned that I would need a Latarjet procedure, which involved the removal and transfer of a section of the coracoid process and its attached muscles to the front of the glenoid, possibly limiting my mobility permanently.

Heartbroken, the first thing that came to my mind was losing any chance of becoming FDNY or NYPD. But, I hadn’t come this far to let another injury defeat me.

In December 2016, I underwent my operation and now have a beautiful scar to remind me of everything triumphed. But, my journey didn’t end there. Only a couple months into physical therapy, my shoulder slipped and the screw became loose, placing me back at square one. I felt so lost and discouraged. However, I had come so far and been through too much to quit.

Fast forward five months of physical therapy three days a week as well as going to the gym opposite days, I gained 95 percent of mobility back, strengthened my shoulder, and lost a total of 18 pounds.

The opportunity to go through that experience and still prove myself as mentally and physically strong is a phenomenal feeling. This was an instance that taught me the importance of being resilient. You have to embrace the challenge in which you are faced, be energized by it and not shy away from it. Your attitude on how you meet that challenge is going to determine your outcome.

Although I still have a lot of work ahead of me, I’m very fortunate to have the love and support of my parents and the Saint James Fire Department as well as the determination and conviction in myself to cross every line life draws for me in the sand. Over a year after the injury and only eight months of strenuous physical therapy, I am ecstatic to deliver the good news of my medical clearance to my Chiefs and return to serving my community.

My moral: There are no excuses, only choices.

– Stephanie Wowk, Saint James Volunteer Fire Department

Have you improved your heart health, coped with general wellness issues or beat cancer? Share your story to inspire fellow volunteer first responders!