Everyday Hero: Daughter's injury spurs mom's rehab center

By Jeff Allen, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, January 22, 2018, 2:45 PM EST

A Seminole County woman has spent much of her life helping others ever since her own life was turned upside down.

  • Liza Riedel formed NextStep Orlando after daughter's injury
  • Riedel gave up career to help daughter, found nonprofit
  • Riedel's nonprofit is a spinal-cord recovery center

Liza Riedel’s daughter Amanda Perla, at just 18-years-old, was paralyzed in an automobile accident. Riedel’s high hopes for her daughter quickly changed.

"You think your daughter is going to go off to college and find her career job, and then the next thing you know, you have an infant again," said Riedel, executive director of the nonprofit NextStep Orlando.

"I started to get really discouraged, because I felt like my life had been put on pause, and everybody else was just moving forward," Perla said.

Perla never lost hope she could increase her mobility someday, but she said insurance does not offer much help.

"(I got) the same amount of physical therapy visits that you'd be given, say, if you break your ankle, and that's just not enough," Perla said.

"They wanted to medicate her and give her happy pills and let her lie in bed. I was like, 'OK, no, there has to be something better,'" Riedel said.

While Perla was being treated in Georgia, her mother gave up everything — even her job — to find something better.

"I was let go, because I refused to leave my daughter in Atlanta by herself," Riedel said.

She found a facility in California, and her daughter began going there.

"The life just came back into her. There was a smile, and I said, 'Finally, someone gets it,'" Riedel said.

However, Riedel knew they could not keep traveling across the country. In addition, she knew other people like her daughter who needed a facility in Florida.

So she opened NextStep Orlando, a community-based spinal cord injury recovery center in Seminole County.

“Knowing four people already we were like, 'Why don't we bring this program to Florida?' and it ended up being the only one in the Southeast," said Riedel.

"They were waiting a week at our doorstep when we hadn't even opened up yet, and once we opened up, the phone would not stop ringing," she said.

Ten years later, Riedel is still pouring all of her energy into her nonprofit NextStep Orlando, which works to make rehab and exercise affordable for people who still hope they will regain more feeling and movement. Riedel spends many sleepless nights thinking about how she can make their lives better.

"I wake up and I say, 'I'm going to do this. We're going to do this with this person, and I can't wait to see how they're doing,' because you just want to help them," Riedel said. "You just want to help their quality of life."

Her enthusiasm and energy is motivation for Perla.

"Sometimes it's a little tiring when she's calling me all hours of the night when I just want to kind of forget about the injury, but it's her determination that had this place open and has kept it going," Perla said.

With her daughter getting stronger, working to help others and getting married later this year, Riedel's hopes for Perla remain high.

Riedel says donations to her nonprofit NextStep Orlando make care more affordable for people with spinal cord injuries. To help, you can find out more information on the nonprofit's website

The nonprofit has a golf benefit Saturday, May 18.