On January 19, 2008, Vaiva had been on her way to collect a new car when her friend, who was driving her to the dealership, crashed on the A2 at the Danson Interchange near Bexley.
The impact caused the car to flip over and Vaiva, who was asleep on the back seat, was thrown through the rear window and onto the carriageway.
London’s Air Ambulance team was dispatched immediately, and arrived at Vaiva’s side within minutes.
They found that her injuries, including suspected damage to the head, spine and face, were life-threatening, so she was placed into an induced coma and flown to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel.
Vaiva, who has no memory of the accident, said: “It was a very exciting morning. But it was so early, so in the back of our friend’s car, I fell asleep. Next, I woke up in hospital.”
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Over the following few weeks Vaiva underwent five operations to reinforce her spine, reset her fractured jaw, and remove blood from her brain.
But then she was informed she had injured her spinal cord, and would need to use a wheelchair.
Vaiva recalled: “I first thought the wheelchair was just temporary. I was thinking I can heal and I will stand up.
“But I wasn’t aware of how bad the spinal cord injury was. The doctor then told me that it was 50/50 if I would ever walk again.”
She added: “I felt like I was always wearing a mask – I was always pretending that things were going to return to normal, like I was temporarily playing a role in a movie.
“Then you realise you have to adapt. I told myself that I can’t just give up. I have to invest in myself – my new self – now. You have to work out how to look forward because you’re lucky to have a future.”
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Having had to re-learn how to perform basic tasks like dressing and eating, Vaiva now runs her own beauty business, with aspirations of starting another.
She said: “I really feel strong and courageous. I don’t care whether I walk with high heels or use a wheelchair: I live a full life.
“In the last 14 years I have visited so many countries – I am experiencing life and I never think anything is boring anymore.”
Vaiva now hopes to set up a charity to provide emotional support for other people who suffer spinal cord injuries.
She added: “Doctors don’t tell you how you have to adapt mentally, how hard it might be and what things will need to change. People need support from people who have gone through it themselves. That’s what I want to do.”
She also recognises that none of this would be have been possible without the life-saving assistance she received after the crash all those years ago.
“I am aware I only have a future partly because of London’s Air Ambulance. I am so thankful for what they did for me. I will always want to help them in return,” she said.