A Gorgeous Summer Day
On Friday, September 20th 2013, a gorgeous early Autumn day, I woke up early on my grandparents farm in Canton, PA. We were preparing for my sister’s wedding on the next day. I was going to be one of the groomsmen and was looking forward to standing by my sister surrounded by friends and family, as she pledged her life to a man we all loved in a big country wedding, with the bridal party making our entrances on ATVs. We’d spent that day riding, shooting guns, setting up for the wedding, and welcoming guests whom we invited to come up a day early. I didn’t know it then, but that night would change my life forever.
The Comforts of our Family’s Farm
My grandparent’s farm was a family gathering place for me, my siblings, and my cousins. We lived in New Jersey, but loved visiting the Pennsylvania farm where the main house was wrapped in a covered porch and Grammy Peg would always make a hearty farm breakfast with large slabs of ham and fresh laid eggs. In the winter, I loved snowmobiling my way through the fields and woods. Other seasons, we explored our surroundings on ATVs and became just as comfortable on the trails, as we would later be in our cars and trucks in New Jersey.
Celebration Turns to the Unimaginable
That entire fall day at the farm had a celebratory tone to it. We weren’t just having fun, we were also practicing for our grand entry to the wedding! As I was on probably the hundredth ride of the night, I saw a curve coming up and I thought to myself I should slow down. As I began to let off the throttle, I was thrown off the ATV before I could brake. I was catapulted into the woods, and knocked unconscious. I woke up sprawled face down with my legs up against a tree. As I came to, a sickening feeling overcame me, along with a sense of fear and dread I hadn’t known before. I knew immediately that I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t yell, it was dark out, I was helpless for what felt like an eternity. When I had not returned from that last ride, my family and friends began searching for me.
Matt, a friend of my brother-in-law to be, in his pick-up truck with his wife Jenna beside him caught a glimpse of the abandoned ATV in their headlights. They got out of the truck and quickly found me where I lay unconscious. They also had that sickening feeling as they spotted my legs up against a tree, and me on the ground below. Both had medical training so they knew not to disturb my positioning as they tried to awaken me.
My Best Friend at My Side
“Quaid! Quaid! Are you all right?” they frantically yelled as they wiped dirt from my mouth and face that I didn’t even know was there. Finally I opened my eyes but quickly fell unconscious again. They called 911, and notified those searching for me, to tell them where I was. The next time I opened my eyes, my best friend Andy was there on the ground beside me holding my hand while other family members gathered around me. Andy’s presence at my side gave me the assurance that I would make it through. “Help is on the way Quaid, it’s gonna be alright”, Andy kept saying. With my friend beside me I closed my eyes again.
Finally, the EMTs arrived, loaded me into the ambulance, and drove me to the nearest field where a helicopter was to meet me. I flew to the nearest trauma hospital, which was about six hours from my home and family in NJ. I had sustained multiple spinal cord injuries, a shattered kidney, five broken ribs on my left side, a punctured right lung, fractures of several vertebrae and even the base of my skull. Unable to breathe on my own, I was hooked up to a ventilator. I was in such bad shape, they couldn’t even operate on me except for life-saving surgery to remove the shattered kidney. The remainder of their efforts were focused on trying to stabilize my vitals. I was on heavy doses of pain medications and the time as it blurred into several days.
Life Saving Interventions, Surgeries,
Rehab and Debilitating Pain
After about a week, I was stable enough to be flown closer to home and was transferred to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia where I had several spinal surgeries. I was paralyzed from the chest down and could barely move. My memory of my stay at Thomas Jefferson Hospital is very cloudy. Late October I was transferred to Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange, NJ. That would become my home for the next 3 months. Being weaned off the ventilator was a big accomplishment so that I would not remain dependent on it for the rest of my life. They took it off me for thirty seconds, and I thought I was gonna die. It was like I had to learn how to breathe; something that healthy people never forget how to do.
Physical, occupational, and speech therapy became my daily routine. Eventually, I gained some muscle control of my left arm and we worked on strengthening it. Finally I could move my thumb, and it took a lot of concentration. Working hard everyday and with the love and support of my family and friends (and friends I didn’t even know had), I slowly started regaining strength. While I was moving ahead in and making some progress, I also began to suffer daily with pain I had never experienced before in my life. When the spinal cord is damaged like mine, nerve fibers and nerve roots no longer function correctly, sending false pain signals to the brain. It is very intense, very painful, and very hard to explain. It’s chronic, intractable, daily pain that I must learn to manage, cope with, and live with at the same time.
Baby Steps & Patience
After Kessler, I went back to Philly again where I underwent two more surgeries at Shriners’ Hospital. Because of my relatively young age, being in great health and top physical condition at the time of my accident, I was a candidate for some brand new, cutting edge surgeries in the field of spinal regeneration. One was a nerve bypass to possibly regenerate the nerves in my right arm, and the other was a tendon transfer on my left, to give me the ability to pinch and grasp. Although these steps forward may seem like baby steps, for someone paralyzed they are monumental and I am determined to keep moving in a positive direction, no matter how small the steps my seem.
For today, I am home in an easy-access ground floor apartment, thanks to the Washington Valley Fire Department. They and other volunteers from the community, including my best friend Andy constructed my new living space while I was in the hospitals. Multiple therapies are still a regular part of my day. I’m learning some of the hardest lessons of life as I spend many hours in my motorized wheel chair, thankful that I can breathe on my own, thankful that I survived, and wondering all kinds of things that only God knows. Patience is the hardest lesson I am learning as I wait for that day that God will show me why this happened, why I survived, and how to navigate on this new journey I am embarking on as a quadriplegic.
Grateful to be Alive
One day I was living the life of a normal 22 year old, my career as a steamfitter was in high gear, and my life was full with friends and and lots of physical activity. In a split second my whole life as I knew it, changed forever. I don’t have many answers, but I do know that I am grateful to be alive. I have faith in God that that He will direct me on a new purposeful route. My life, just like yours, is a work in progress, and the end of my story is still unwritten!
I welcome anyone who has read my story and has questions to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org