*While Dee was causing all kinds of pain and heartache for her brother Raj on “What’s Happening!” during its three year run, the actress who played the iconic character spent part of the first season in real physical pain from a horrific car accident that killed her step-father, put her in a coma for three weeks and left her with a broken pelvis, leg and arm.
“I was gone from the show for about six months,” says Danielle Spencer, speaking to EURweb exclusively. “They stopped taping the show for about a month and I just healed pretty quickly. Basically I had the summer to heal and I came back for the second season.”
The Jersey-born actress said she continued filming “What’s Happening!” until the show was cancelled in 1979, then, went on to high school and finished college without any lingering ailments from the accident.
Then in 2003 – 26 years after the Sept. 7, 1977 car crash – she suddenly felt a tingling in her leg.
Spencer – who at this point has been married four years and a veterinarian for seven– initially wrote it off as a reaction to the cold weather in New York, where she was living at the time, and the stress of walking all over town while shopping for Christmas gifts. But in the next three months, the tingling turned to numbness up and down both legs, and eventually a stabbing pain in her back.
“That’s when I knew something was definitely wrong,” she says. “I went from walking, to [being] in a wheelchair by the end of the week.”
Turns out a disc in her back from the 1977 accident had calcified through the decades and was pressing against her nerve. She was informed by her doctor that she would never walk again unless she has an operation to remove the disc.
“Of course after the surgery, I was paralyzed for about eight months. I found that the physical therapy wasn’t helping me at all and I was just getting so frustrated – to the point that I had even thought about suicide,” says Danielle. “This was about six months after I was released from the hospital. I was just so depressed because I wasn’t getting better.”
Spencer’s mother decided to take her from Los Angeles to New Jersey and put her in the care of Christopher Reeve’s doctors at the famed Kessler Institute.
“About three weeks after I had been in New Jersey, they had me walking on a walker. This is [after] eight months in California with nothing.
“New Jersey just gave me hope and inspiration, and I was able to help others because I came through that really dark period in my life,” she says. “It kind of turned things all around. At the time, I said if that helped me, I know that if I write a book about this, it’s going to help other people.”
In January, Dr. Danielle Spencer-Fields and co-writer Cheryl Pelt self-published, “Through the Fire: Journal of a Child Star,” a collection of memories from her early years, including details of overcoming personal adversity.
Below, Danielle explains why any reader would be inspired by her story.
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