On Dec. 14, 1991, Mary Helen Hensley was driving along Savannah Highway in West Ashley when a car careened through a red light at 75 miles per hour and smashed into her. Hensley, who had just graduated from Coker College in Hartsville, was working for Sign It Quick in North Charleston, but the accident, which nearly killed her, would change everything she knew and everything she did.
Her head went through the side window. She suffered extensive spinal injury, a detached retina, lost hearing in her left ear and dysphagia, a disruption to her swallowing mechanism. Hensley, born in Roanoke, Va., and now living in central Ireland, would spend the next three years in Charleston recovering — and, she said, discovering new powers she hadn't realized she possessed.
On Sunday, Hensley, a chiropractor, therapist and author of nine books, will appear at Unity of Charleston church in North Charleston for a talk on her experiences, her latest volume, "Understanding is the New Healing," and the music for healing project, Sines, she is now involved in.
Two of her books — "Promised By Heaven, published by Simon & Schuster imprint Atria, and her newest, published by Lisa Hagen Books — have been optioned for film and TV projects.
Q: You have a stunning “before and after” story: Before a serious car accident, you were a young communications and graphic design major. Afterward, you took a sharp turn and became a healer and author. Tell me about the emotional and psychological process you experienced in the immediate aftermath of the accident.
A: Following a ... near-death experience in the car, as a preacher's daughter from Virginia I had to completely reinvent myself. My paradigm had not simply shifted, it had exploded. Concepts such as reincarnation and the intricacy of the mind, body and spirit connection were now unavoidable. All that I had been taught to believe was just so small, yet in its complexity suddenly became so simple.
It was local chiropractor, Dr. Anthony Ross of Johns Island, who first began to restore health to my damaged body following the accident. (He) helped me to integrate the extraordinary things that were happening to me on the spiritual front. Returning from a near-death experience with injuries that altered my quality of life, such as a severe scoliosis, cervical fractures that prevented me from swallowing properly, panic attacks (and) damage to the vagus nerve, (was) difficult to digest at the age of 22.
He was also incredibly supportive and open to the other changes, such as the sudden onset of my ability to know what was causing someone else's illness and the capacity to facilitate the energy through my hands that could assist them to heal.
Q: Why did you move to Ireland, and what is life like for you there?
A: After spending my final term of chiropractic school doing an externship in Ireland, I knew that this was the place that I would return to set up practice. I was having repetitive visions of ancient symbols and I went to Ireland to find them. I am always asked if I moved there because of a romance. I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I respond with the fact that I relocated across the Atlantic to the mystical shores of Ireland in pursuit of these symbols and not a man!
Q: Your latest book is called “Understanding is the New Healing: Miraculous Recoveries from Physical and Emotional Trauma.” What was your purpose in writing it?
A: "Promised By Heaven" tells the story of my life. "Understanding Is The New Healing" tells some of the amazing stories of the people I have been so fortunate to interact with over the years. This book is about why I do what I do and my hope is that readers may find some piece of themselves in some of these beautiful stories of the tenacity and capacity of the human spirit.
It is about real people who have faced incredible trials and obstacles and found their way back to health, physically and emotionally. It encourages readers to know that "understanding" why something has happened can create the healing that they seek and that, ultimately, it is they who have the power to heal themselves.
I am simply a window washer to the soul, wiping away the muck and the grime of life's accumulated difficulties so they might see clearly again and remember who and what they really are.