This fall John, 25, started classes at the University of Missouri School of Law, which doesn’t sound like much until you learn he was paralyzed from the neck down six years ago when the car he was driving collided with a semi-truck. At the time, John was 18 and a freshman at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa.
The Rock Bridge high school graduate had just reached the city limits of Ottumwa after a weekend home when the accident occurred. He ended up pinned under the dashboard, his left leg mangled, drifting in and out of consciousness. When he finally opened his eyes, John was in a hospital in Iowa City. His parents were at his bedside.
“One of the first things I said when I woke up was, ‘I’m sorry I wrecked the car,’” John recalled, now chuckling at the absurdity of the comment. “Of course, they weren’t mad.”
John didn’t waste time being mad, either. Self-pity wasn’t an option.
“If you start complaining, people will eventually get sick of it and alienate you,” John said. “Besides, with all the rehabilitation, I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself.”
John stayed in Iowa City for 3 ½ weeks, longer than anticipated because he had a blood clot in his left leg that kept causing his temperature to spike. Eventually, he was transferred to Rusk Rehabilitation in Columbia, where he poured himself into rebuilding his body. For the next several months, John’s life fluctuated between 30 days at home with occupational and physical therapies and 30 days at Rusk with intensive occupational therapy. At home, aides would arrive in the morning to help him get ready; at night, his parents would assist him. The pace was grueling.
“I couldn’t have done it without my family,” John said.
In the beginning, John couldn’t move a thing from the waist down. But it didn’t take long for some movement to return, more than doctors expected.
“I came back pretty quickly,” he said, “much quicker than anticipated.”
Today, John can move his torso, arms, wrists and hands, which is much more than most people have with a C4 and C5 cervical spine injury. He has virtually no movement in his fingers, but he can still hold a cell phone and write text messages. He has a support rod in his neck to help support his head, and doctors also fused four vertebrae.
Still, John is determined to not let his condition define his life. Only six months after the accident, he was back in college, enrolled as an undergraduate at MU. Over the next six years, John worked toward a degree in sociology and economics. Along the way, he developed a pressure sore which is common for people who use wheelchairs and are often in one position for long periods of time. But John’s sore deepened and failed to heal. He landed in the hospital for nine months with some of the time spent in a nursing home. All total, John missed 1 ½ years of college. But he stuck with it and eventually graduated. If all goes as planned, John will one day be a defense attorney.
“John is extremely independent,” said Ann Tatayon, a Support Coordinator at Boone County Family Resources where John has been receiving services for six years. “I’ve never heard him complain from the day I met him. He has always set high goals for himself and sees no reason why he can’t meet them.
“I think John is an exceptional person,” she added.
Today, John drives an accessible vehicle and lives in an accessible duplex built by his older brother. An aide helps John in the morning and evening as well as throughout the day at college, taking notes and other tasks for him. BCFR helped finance modifications to John’s kitchen so he can cook simple meals. The agency also purchases Life Line for John, which he has used on several occasions when he dropped his phone and couldn’t contact his family. John continues to receive treatment for his pressure sore, and some of those supplies are paid for by BCFR. He even spends two to three hours a week in an oxygen chamber to help promote healing. And he continues his occupational therapy.
About a month ago, John became engaged.
Because of his great attitude, John is often recruited to talk with “newbies” at Rusk Rehabilitation Center. His message is simple.
“You don’t want to tell them to suck it up,” he said. “But you do want to get across to them that ‘you’ve got to do it’ because what else is there to do?”