How 1 missionary paralyzed in a hit-and-run car crash is ‘running to share the gospel’

Monique McDown was asking for a miracle.

A year had gone by since she was hit by a car while serving a full-time mission in Curitiba, Brazil. The accident left McDown’s right leg paralyzed, and in the months following her release as a missionary, she had been relearning how to do the “little” things, including standing up, sitting down, getting out of bed and putting on her shoes.

One afternoon in the Dallas Texas Temple, after months of physical therapy and working to regain movement in her leg, McDown believed she had done everything she could. While she accepted God’s will for her, she knew that if anything about her situation was going to change, He was the only one who could make it happen.

It was only two days later after additional fasting and praying that McDown finally saw muscle movement in her leg. A week after that, she was taking steps all on her own. 

My miracle ♡After over one year of being paralyzed and completely losing the ability to walk, I miraculously have begun to regain a small portion of movement and control in my right thigh. While wearing a hard brace that will not allow my leg to bend at the knee or ankle, I can slowly move my right leg forward with the control I have in my thigh only. I have no words to describe the emotions I am feeling and what it felt like the very first day and moment I realized that for once, something was different. This video was taken only days ago after a lot of hard work, physical therapy, and help from my biggest cheerleader to progress towards taking these steps on my own. To everyone who has been praying for me, I am so thankful for each one of you. Do miracles exist? Yes, and this is proof.

Posted by Monique McDown on Wednesday, July 31, 2019

“I know it was nothing that I did,” she said. “I know that I worked hard and I did all that I could, but at that moment, that was the power of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t the power of Monique McDown or the physical therapy; it was the true power of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father, a miracle — a modern day miracle –– that was happening. And I was so grateful to be a part of that, that it was happening through me.”

Walking with Christ

Only six months into her mission, McDown had fallen head over heels in love with the Brazilian people — her family had a history of serving in the country and her mother was from there originally.  So, on July 15, 2018, on a Sunday afternoon, McDown wasn’t looking to relax. She was looking to teach.

Monique McDown while serving her mission in Curitiba, Brazil. This picture was taken minutes before McDown was in an accident which left her paralyzed.
Monique McDown while serving her mission in Curitiba, Brazil. This picture was taken minutes before McDown was in an accident which left her paralyzed. Credit: Courtesy Monique McDown

After searching for new families to share the gospel with, McDown and her companion were walking up a hill on a dirt road with no sidewalks when she had an impression to tell her companion to move further away from the side of the road. 

Shortly afterwards, McDown and her companion heard a car approaching them. Suddenly, the driver revved the engine and seconds later hit McDown. Ricocheting onto the car, she fell back before the driver sped off as fast as he could at approximately 35 to 40 miles per hour. 

Miles away from their apartment and unable to reach anyone for help, McDown was focused on one thing — getting home. But they didn’t have a way to get there.

So they walked. 

“I can confidently say that I was walking with Christ,” said McDown. “I know that He was beside me. He was helping me get there, and so that miracle in itself, knowing that my last steps were with Christ, that has been something that I’ve really held onto.” 

The reality of the pain didn’t hit, McDown said, until she arrived home. Slipping in and out of unconsciousness, she finally woke up in the hospital where her mission president, Doug Hart, was by her side. He administered a priesthood blessing to McDown. However, the doctors were not initially concerned about her case. Since McDown hadn’t broken any bones during the accident, she was discharged only four hours later.

In the days that followed, though, there was an increasing uneasiness about the situation. McDown spent her time at the mission home, studying “Preach My Gospel” while her companion was out in the field. But when a numbness started to spread throughout McDown’s leg and down to her toes, until her leg eventually grew cold to the touch, it was clear she had to return home to Flower Mound, Texas.

‘Running to share the gospel’

Monique McDown with her father, Chris McDown, and mother, Nancy McDown, in the hospital in Dallas, Texas following an accident on her mission which left her paralyzed.
Monique McDown with her father, Chris McDown, and mother, Nancy McDown, in the hospital in Dallas, Texas following an accident on her mission which left her paralyzed. Credit: Courtesy Monique McDown

After a couple of weeks in the hospital, it was clear that McDown would not be returning to Brazil anytime soon. Not only was her right leg paralyzed, but her lumbosacral plexus and spine had suffered severe damage in the accident. She also had a hematoma on her hip. 

“I was just in this constant, ‘I’m not Sister McDown, but I’m not Monique McDown either,’ and so it was a really hard challenge for me to deal with that,” she said. “But I have great parents. They were helping me through that. They kept on saying, ‘Your mission can continue. Your mission doesn’t have to end, even though you don’t have on that name tag.’”

The support McDown has had from her mission president and his wife has also been an immense help in her recovery. President Hart invited the missionaries in Curitiba to fast for McDown after she left Brazil. Knowing that there were hundreds of people praying and fasting for her gave McDown the peace she needed. Additionally, she had the opportunity to record her testimony in Portuguese for the sisters and elders on her mission, which President Hart shared during zone conferences.

“She got kind of emotional in this message to our missionaries saying, ‘Please. You have two good legs. If I was there, I’d be running to share the gospel,’” he said.

After she was released, McDown’s stake president promised her that she would walk again. 

“From that moment, I knew it would happen,” McDown said. “I didn’t know when, whether it would be 40 years from now, 10 years — I didn’t know. But that promise I’ve kept, and I felt the Spirit confirm that … (it) would happen.”

The recovery

Over the past year, McDown has been in and out of more hospitals than she likes to count. She’s been through nerve tests, has suffered internal bleeding and is working on keeping her body strong through physical therapy. Additionally, every day she spends an hour where she manually moves her leg forward and tries to walk. Through it all, she’s also miraculously stayed positive.

“One of the greatest choices I’ve made was allowing this trial to make me better because I know that trials are inevitable. They happen to everyone,” she said. “But what we can choose is what we do with them. … It’s been really difficult. There’s been hard days where I’ve thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but the choice that I made to rely on the Savior has gotten me through that.”

Monique McDown in physical therapy after she was in an accident while serving her mission in Curitiba, Brazil.
Monique McDown in physical therapy after she was in an accident while serving her mission in Curitiba, Brazil. Credit: Courtesy Monique McDown

McDown’s positive attitude is something that has impressed her “mission mom,” President Hart’s wife, Cheri Hart, from the start. Although it was devastating when McDown had to leave her mission, Sister Hart said her influence has been much greater since she returned home. From McDown’s posts on social media to coverage about her story on LDS Living, Fox 4 News and WFAA, McDown’s journey has resonated with people across the country.

“I just feel like her influence will be felt far wider than she would have had the opportunity to on a traditional mission,” she said. “I think that her mission is different, and she’s still a missionary. It’s not the kind of mission she thought she was going to serve, but I have no doubt that her influence is felt by people that she’s never met.”

McDown has also seen new ways that she can continue to be a missionary at home.

“I kept thinking, ‘I could do so much good if I were in Brazil. Why couldn’t I have just stayed there?’ But I definitely felt and received that comfort from Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father through my prayers that my mission is continuing and I can still serve and make an impact here,” she said. “I don’t need to have that name tag on anymore. It was a process and it was a really hard, sad thing to come home and I still miss it every day, but I know that it can still continue and I know that we all can be missionaries, whether or not we have an official calling to do so.”

Monique McDown with Sister Missionaries outside the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple.
Monique McDown with Sister Missionaries outside the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple. Credit: Courtesy Monique McDown

Although there’s still a long way to go in her recovery, McDown is confident that this is just the beginning of more miracles to come in her life. In the meantime, the public relations major at Brigham Young University said that when it comes to her experience, she would “do it a thousand times again” if it meant she could have a relationship with her Savior the way she does today. 

“So the Monique McDown now, it’s a joyful Monique that has a testimony that is stronger than … before, even though I have one less (fully functioning) leg. It’s stronger in every aspect because I have that testimony. 

“I have the knowledge that I’m a daughter of God regardless of my body, regardless of my physical capability. I know my worth. I know that I’m a daughter of God and that Jesus Christ is my Savior and that He knows me personally. He’s been with me every single second of this. And I think that’s the biggest change in me is I have joy now. I have pure joy that I did not have before, and that came through my relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Monique McDown pictured with the Book of Mormon in Portuguese.
Monique McDown pictured with the Book of Mormon in Portuguese. Credit: Courtesy Monique McDown