3 Percent. One in every 33. After probing my doctors this week about a complete C6 vertebrae injury, these are the statistics that I was given for probability of a full recovery (i.e. walking upright).11 Percent. One in every nine. This is the statistic for patients with complete C6 vertebrae injuries regaining sensation in parts of the body below the level of injury.
Needless to say, not the best news I could have anticipated. But before people get sappy and start to feel sorry for me, let me tell you a story about odds.
In May of 2006, my former employer, flew me out to New York City for a week so I could apartment hunt and get acclimated for my relocation to New York. On the Saturday prior to my departure I still had not decided that a move to the East Coast was in the cards for me. I was shocked with how ridiculously expensive New York City was and I was reluctant to leave all the wonderful different circles of friends I had established in Colorado. But the idea of a fresh, exciting, challenge usually gets the better of me. I was just not ready to commit 100% yet.
So on that last Saturday of my apartment hunting trip I was invited by some new friends I had met earlier in the week , to a loft party down in the South Street Seaport. It turned out to be a party for the Preakness horse racing event. When I got to the party I was shown around the beautiful artist loft and introduced to friends of friends. Then a few minutes prior to the start of the race everybody ran downstairs to the OTB (Off Track Betting) facility to place last minute bets. I had never bet on horses before but I figured, ‘why not?’ I attempted to place three separate bets on three different horses. The lady at the betting booth informed me that was stupid and I should put together a Trifecta. She explained a Trifecta to me, but I didn’t like those odds so then she told me about a Box Trifecta where the horses could come in any order, you just had to have the top three correct. I felt these odds were much better so I placed the bet. Everybody went back to the loft to watch the race. The race was fast, maybe just a couple of minutes. Afterwards people were checking their tickets to see if they had won. I showed mine to the host, he said “Dude, I think you won pretty big”. All the potential winners marched back downstairs to the OTB to claim their winnings. I flashed my ticket and immediately a lady in a dark suit appeared to speak to me about tax deductions from my winnings. I was a little concerned but the booth officer informed me it was a good thing as they only pretax winnings of $5000 or more. It turns out that I won approximately $8700 from a $17 bet. After the tax deduction, the booth officer counted out 61 $100 bills. I folded the wad of bills and stuffed them into my front pocket. I smiled at the bulge. The odds for my Box Trifecta were 511 to 1. The odds were high that year because Barbaro was expected to win and at the very least, place in the top three. He went down during the race with a broken leg. Unbelievably, I had the Trifecta in the correct one, two, three, order but I placed my bet as a Box Trifecta. So if I would have taken the booth officer’s original advice and placed the bet as a Trifecta I would have walked away with approximately $26,000 from a $17 bet placed on 1500 to 1 odds. No big deal, I was completely happy with my $8700 in winnings.
Everybody returned to the loft to celebrate their winnings. People were in awe that the kid who didn’t even live in New York, just won almost nine grand. Later in the evening I treated the host, several of his friends, and my new friends who invited me to the party to an Italian dinner at a legendary establishment down in the Seaport. Good times were had by all and I took this entire day as a sign/omen that I was making the right decision to relocate to New York City.
So how do you like those odds? 511 to one? 1500 to one? It makes my recovery seem very doable. It might just take a little longer than I had anticipated. When I was in ICU on my back in New York, I was thinking that after three months in Atlanta at Shepherd Center and I would be back on my feet. I’m coming to realize my injury is much more severe than I previously thought and its possible recovery could stretch into years, rather than months. Regardless, I’m remaining hopeful and positive that my hard work will pay off. I’m also optimistic that alternative treatments, such as stem cell injections and bonding, will become readily available in the near future. THANK YOU to my friends, family, and colleagues who have assisted in fundraisers or have contributed directly to my foundation. Without this support, the notion of seeking alternative treatments would not even be possible!
Let’s get back on track with an update on my progress. A week ago Friday my therapists put me in a manual wheelchair, definitely a step in the right direction. Unfortunately my arms look like a second grader’s which makes getting around quite slow and difficult. But everyday that I’m in that chair pushing myself around, I’m getting stronger. The first day the therapists wanted me in the manual chair for two hours, I was in it for six. I was excited to push myself around and essentially have a constant work out. Yesterday I was able to remain in the manual chair the entire day, a total of 12 hours.
Also this past week, three important functions of my body have slowly been returning. My appetite, blood pressure and core body temperature regulation. People with spinal cord injuries have difficulties with low blood pressure and a decreased body temperature. For the past several weeks I’ve found food, especially warm food, repulsive. The low blood pressure makes me feel faint almost every time I sit up straight. And my core body temperature is typically at least 2° lower than normal and as a result I’m rolling around the mild southern autumn with long sleeves, a hoodie, and a stocking cap. Yes, I do get some weird looks but all three of these functions are slowly returning to normal. Over the past few days my appetite has returned and I have gorged myself on Thai food and Mexican. Getting an appropriate amount of nutrition is very important during my recovery so I can regain strength. My blood pressure has stabilized to the point where I can be upright in my manual or power chair for 12 hours plus. And my core body temperature is also stabilizing to the point where I don’t have to look like a ski bum when it is 70° outside.
Rosaleen and my mom have both been trained enough to get a “push pass” which means they can wheel me off hospital property as long as a vehicle is not needed to get to the destination. Essentially, we now have the freedom to travel a five block radius in any direction to check out shops, restaurants, and other stores. This is really good for all of us to acclimate to society in a slightly altered state. Simple tasks that previously did not require much thought, like stepping on to a curb or negotiating the width of a convenience store aisle, have become more difficult in a wheelchair. Regardless it feels great to be able to go out to dinner or take a walk/spin around the block.
I’ve been riding an FES bike twice a week for 11 miles each session. Electronic transmitters are hooked up to my legs to fire my muscles which in turn pedal the bike. The goal of this therapy is to keep my muscles strong so when my spinal cord does start communicating with the rest of my body I will be able to respond accordingly (i.e. stand up). Also by firing these muscles it is hoped that the spinal cord will notice activity below the injury and start communicating, kind of like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey.
Thanks again to everybody who turned out for the fundraisers, sounds like everybody had a good time. I really appreciate the support. Thank you to all the people who sent me cards, letters, e-mails, and guestbook responses. Reading these messages is incredibly refreshing and has become a highlight of my downtime here at rehab. And thank you to all my parents’ wonderful friends from the community and First Presbyterian Church who are helping back in Muncie to get my parents new home ready to move into. It’s really taken a lot off of their mind and in turn allows them to stay here in Atlanta with me and help with my recovery. Thank you all so much.
Getting better by the day,