The Very Closest of Friends Forever
November 2022 Issue
by Michele Roldan-Shaw
Photography submitted by Mary Katherine Rawlinson
When you’ve been best friends with someone since age 3, you expect to go through some changes. But you never expect this.
On July 15, 2017, Mary Catherine Rawlinson was returning to Florence, SC after a trip to the beach with her family. They were ten minutes from home when another driver hit them head on, injuring the entire family. Mary Catherine was the worst off—she had a broken neck at C6 and a fractured lower spine at L4, which initially left her quadriplegic. Doctors were vague with her, saving the details for her parents, so she didn’t really grasp her situation at first.
“I thought I was going to go to therapy for a while, and I would be back to normal,” recalls Mary Catherine, who had neck surgery before being sent to Shepherd Center in Atlanta for rehabilitation. “I just kind of assumed and hoped for the best. I think when I realized it wasn’t going to be an immediate fix was when they kept extending my time at Shepherd.”
It was hard being away from home, but Mary Catherine knew therapy would help her become more independent, so she just accepted her situation and learned to make the best of it. “It made me a more positive person,” she says, “and allowed me to appreciate life more, because we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, so every moment counts.”
Little by little, movement began returning to her arms and hands so that she was able to perform tasks like brushing her hair and teeth. Then her legs began to work as well, so she started trying to stand and walk. Four months after the accident, Mary Catherine finally got to go home to the loving support of her family and friends.
Among them was Chandler Jordan, her best friend since preschool. They had both just started their freshman years of high school—Chandler in Florence, Mary Catherine online from Shepherd Center. “I knew it wouldn’t change our friendship,” says Chandler, “but it would change everything else. And it did. But we only got closer as we got older.”
Chandler began supporting her friend in every way possible, starting with small tasks like loading her wheelchair in the car, or getting things she couldn’t reach. This progressed to helping with Mary Catherine’s specific medical needs, and by age 18, Chandler had become certified through the State to be her personal caregiver so they could go and do fun things together without having to worry, or have their moms tag along. At the same time, Mary Catherine supported Chandler through difficulties of her own.
“I definitely had my times where I wished things were different,” Mary Catherine admits. “But it was a mutual understanding that I was doing things for her too—not physically, but she knew I was always there to talk to. And she could come stay at our house whenever she needed.”
Now the two live together while attending Clemson University. In addition to classes, Mary Catherine has therapy twice a week to work on her balance, strength and coordination. She can walk with canes, although she still uses the wheelchair a lot, and Chandler happily assists with anything that would cause Mary Catherine to expend too much energy. The maturity of their friendship has deepened thanks to seeing the fragile nature of life, and therefore how important it is to stay close and be there for each other no matter what.
“This happened at a time when we were going through changes anyway, and thinking about how we were going to become our adult selves,” says Chandler. “We were both at a low point, but this made us take things more seriously. It’s about embracing your new normal, which can change every day, so you have to make peace with that and do the things that will make you happy in your current situation.”
Hobbies: Going to Clemson football games, concerts, the beach and coffee shops
Favorite coffee drink: Iced caramel latte at the Bean Bar in Florence
Most visited beach: North Myrtle, since Chandler’s family has a house there
Food obsessions: Mexican and California rolls
Sororities: Chandler is a Delta Zeta, Mary Catherine is a Pi Beta Phi