On Friday evening, September 12th, 2008 I was on a train to East Hampton, NY to celebrate my friends birthday and escape the sweltering heat in NYC. I’d grown to love these summertime weekend trips to the beach, jumping on the LIRR with my dog and surfboard in tow to decompress for a couple days. The weekend started off proper, spending time with good friends, playing in the surf, bonfire on the beach, tailgate BBQ, my toes in the cool sand, sneaking Tahoe (my dog) into the local pub, cutting through the tree lined Hampton back-roads under a beautiful sky filled with stars and a fresh ocean breeze. I was feeling truely blessed. Late Saturday night, September 13th, our crew decided to head back to the house where I was staying for a swim in the pool. I dove right in, something I’d done thousands of times throughout my life.
See, up until this fateful night, I had led an aquatic life. I swam competitively from age 6 through high school, surfed up and down the East and West Coasts, and on trips to Australia, Fiji, and French Polynesia. I worked with SCUBA charters on resorts in Jamaica and went diving throughout the Caribbean, on the Great Barrier Reef, in Thailand, and on tiny atolls in the South Pacific. For 20+ years I had disregarded “No Diving” signs, believing my skills in the water trumped any warning posted for an aquatic novice.
Not this night.
I dove into the pool, hit my head on the bottom, broke my neck, floated up to the surface, face down, and realized something was seriously wrong when I couldn’t move my arms. I rolled my head to the side and snuck a quick breath and tried to yell for help. Having a reputation as a jokester didn’t serve me well, as my friends thought I was crying wolf. After a few seconds they realized this was no joke and they pulled me from the water. I had shattered my C6 vertebrae and the bone fragments splintered into my spinal cord reaking havoc, paralyzing me from the upper chest down.
My weekend getaway soon turned into a very serious fight for my life. Ambulance rides through the middle of the night, two risky surgeries to stabilize my neck, and a grueling two and a half week stay in ICU where I couldn’t breath, speak, or eat without assistance. That misery was followed by a lifeline flight to Atlanta and 3 1/2 months in a rehab hospital where I was told by doctors that my chance of walking again was slim to none, but more likely none. This was no doubt the most difficult time in my life. I don’t think I would have made it without my community of support ranging from family, friends, colleagues, and extensions of all the previously mentioned connections.
While I was in the rehab hospital I realized that many of my fellow patients didn’t have the extensive support system that I was so lucky to have behind me. Teenagers, the elderly, people of all races and gender were facing my same challenges, the injury does not discriminate, but many are not equipped to handle the emotional, financial, and physical burden. Some people may just need a wheelchair to move on with life, others may require a team of nurses 24 hours day. We all share the same goal and that is to walk again. Therefore, I was motivated to start the Rise Up To Cure Paralysis Foundation to raise money to help support the recovery of individuals fighting paralysis and provide funding for medical research striving for a cure.
Since my accident, I have recovered sensation and motor function to areas of my body 2 feet below my level of injury. My doctors original diagnosis stated this as an impossibility. So believe me, there is hope! I attribute my healing to the innovative therapy in which I’ve been able to participate and of course my positive outlook. These cutting edge therapies need to be readily available to all whom wish to participate.
Nobody should be denied the opportunity to recover due to insurance coverage, geographic location, or financial status. The bottom line is new therapies and advances in medicine are not possible without appropriate funding for research. Please join our cause! Support our quest for a cure and individuals seeking innovative therapy! Together we can RISE UP TO CURE PARALYSIS!