Sonoma Stories: New Santa Rosa author lost much of herself to a car crash, but not her faith

Lithuania-born Inga Lizdenyte wrote letters of encouragement to her brother, and they became a book.|

Inga Lizdenyte’s life has, by any measure, been extraordinary. She was 22 when the car her 26-year-old date was racing through the capital of Lithuania slammed broadside into a utility pole so violently that the vehicle tore in half.

There was a time when some would suggest Lizdenyte (liz den EAT ah) author a book, and she’d reply that she couldn’t imagine herself writing one and, if she did, who in the world would want to read it?

A book? The concept that once seemed absurd now fills 500 pages and is available for purchase at local bookstores and online.

The Feb. 12, 2000, crash cut away both of her legs above the knees and paralyzed her left arm. Despair suppressed her life for years.

Today the 41-year-old, Lizdenyte, who’s regularly seen zipping along Santa Rosa sidewalks in her electric wheelchair, can’t imagine not having written “Unstoppable: It’s a Choice.”

“I put all my heart into it,” she said. “I was honest, open - brutally open, I would say.”

She found the seven-year project hugely helpful to her healing.

“I did not cry as much after the accident,” she said, “as I did writing the book.”

Early in June, the book received at the San Francisco Book Festival honorable mention in two categories of judging - spiritual/religious and biography/autobiography.

Lizdenyte is set to speak from 6-8 p.m. July 11 at Santa Rosa’s Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Her self-published “Unstoppable” began as a series of letters to her brother in Lithuania, Valdas, who reached out to her at a time he found little reason to live. Lizdenyte said writing at length to Valdas about her own adversities and salvation helped him, and it certainly was therapeutic for her. Now she hopes the book will prove of value to others who struggle.

“My big conviction is that we always have a choice. We always have a choice to give up, give in,” said the proudly independent survivor. “And we have a choice to fight.”

The story this fighter tells is a Christian story.

“Many see me as a strong person,” Lizdenyte wrote, “but I was not born strong. I became strong.”

She showers gratitude on many in Lithuania and in Sonoma County who helped her as she toiled to reclaim her life, purpose and happiness after the crash that killed the man she was dating and almost killed her.

“I couldn’t imagine how to continue with nearly half of my body gone,” she wrote.

She’s now a legal resident of the U.S. and a staffer of the Santa Rosa-based Disability Services & Legal Center, as well as an author who aspires to become a full-time life coach and inspirational speaker. She gives most of the credit for her rise from pain and hopelessness to Jesus Christ.

She assured Valdas of that in a letter in her book: “Brother, Jesus Christ is alive in the spiritual realm, though we don’t see him with our physical eye. And prayers in his name are truly answered … I will be honest with you - I don’t know how I would have handled the consequences of the accident if not for my faith in the Lord.”

She concedes in her book that even with divine help, much of what she experienced through her recovery was utter agony.

“I made it look very easy, but it wasn’t,” she said at her Santa Rosa apartment. “It was excruciating.”

She also wrote extensively about something she long once believed she’d guard as a secret the rest of her life: how she fell in love and had an affair with a married American man.

In one letter to her brother, she promised to recount her journey from the nearly fatal crash to a new life of meaning and self-reliance “without filtering anything.”

She added, “While I am sharing everything just as it was then, may my experience give you insights into where we cross the fine line that leads us into the abyss.”

The abrupt end to the affair, when it was discovered by the man’s wife, was an excruciating setback to Lizdenyte.

She wrote that the first horrific crash in her life happened because she got into a car with a man she shouldn’t have, and the second because she took up with a man who was married to another woman.

“Both of those crashes were the result of the choices I made earlier,” she wrote.

“Both times I knew what I was doing was wrong, but kept doing it. And both times those choices led me to total destruction.”

For years, Lizdenyte was determined to walk again. It was her quest for state-of-the-art prosthetic legs that drove her desire to come to California.

She did walk for a time on high-tech artificial legs, and she rejoiced to again be standing. But complications with the fit and a bone spur in her left thigh helped her to the conclusion that prostheses were not for her, and that she would be fine in her motorized wheelchair.

Her book serves up practical as well as spiritual instruction for overcoming hardship and tragedy.

Beyond faith and prayer, Lizdenyte counsels against blame, and she advises the pursuit of concrete goals.

She suggests that she might still be relying on others had she looked at all that was involved in working a job, cooking, dressing, moving about and such with just one limb and allowed herself to wonder if she could do it.

She said at her apartment, “I leave myself with only one option: to figure out how.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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