On Friday, September 20th 2013, I woke up early on my grandparent’s farm in Canton, PA. It was a gorgeous early Autumn day, the sky was bright blue and we couldn’t have asked for a better temperature. The following day was going to be a very special one for my large extended family. We
were getting ready and preparing for my sister’s wedding on Saturday. I was going to be one of the groomsmen in the wedding, and was looking forward to standing by my sister surrounded by friends and family, as she said her vows and committed her life to a man we all loved. She had planned a big
country wedding, with the bridal party making their grand entrances on All Terrain Vehicles. 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.
My grandparent’s farm was a family gathering place for me, my siblings, and my cousins. We lived in New Jersey, but we loved visiting the Pennsylvania farm where we could enjoy the slower paced lifestyle and the working farm environment. The main house was wrapped in a large covered porch where we spent many lazy afternoons, and in the mornings Grammy Peg would always make a hearty farm breakfast with large slabs of ham and fresh laid eggs. In the evenings we built huge bonfires in an old fifty-five gallon drum Pop-pop had on the property. In the winter, I loved the huge piles of mountain snow and enjoyed snowmobiling my way through the fields and woods.
When there was no snow, we explored our surroundings on ATVs. We eventually became just as comfortable riding through the wood, as we would later be in our cars and trucks on our neighborhood roads in New Jersey.
That entire fall day, and each ride we took, 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 the last ride of the night, probably the hundredth time going down that dark country trail, I saw a curve coming up and I
thought to myself I should slow down. As I began to let off the throttle, my vehicle struck a large cement block in the dirt road before I began to brake, it catapulted me into the woods, knocking me unconscious. When I woke up I realized I was sprawled upside 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 had never known before. I knew immediately in that instant that I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t yell, it was dark out, I was helpless. Powerlessness was not a feeling familiar to me. I had always landed on my feet in life, and in the rare times I didn’t, I knew how to get back on the horse as they say, fix any situation, and make it right again. Lying helpless for what felt like an eternity, I was finally found about a half hour later. When I had not returned from that last ride, my family and friends in the bridal party began searching for me.
Matt, a friend of my brother-in-law to be, was the first to approach me. He had been searching the woods in his pickup truck with his wife Jenna beside him. Their headlights caught a glimpse of the abandoned ATV I’d been riding and they knew I must be near. 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 arouse me to consciousness.
“Quaid! Quaid! Are you all right!” They frantically yelled as they wiped loads of dirt from my mouth and face that I didn’t even know was there. Finally I opened my eyes but quickly fell into unconsciousness again. They called 911, and notified those searching for me to tell them I’d been found. The next time I opened my eyes, my best friend, Andy was there on the ground beside me holding my hand. He and I have been friends since the seventh grade and always had each others’ backs through the years. Other family members gathered round me and tried not to show their shock. 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. Somehow he kept his calm as if I’d only skinned a knee. With my him beside me I closed my eyes again.
Finally, the EMTs arrived and working quickly, they loaded me into the ambulance, and drove me to the nearest field where a medivac helicopter was there to meet me. I was flown to the nearest trauma hospital, which was in upstate NY, about an hour and a half drive from where the accident happened and six hours from my home and family in NJ. I had sustained C-5, C-6 and T-8 spinal cord injuries, a shattered kidney, three broken ribs on my left side, two broken ribs on my right, a punctured right lung, fractures of several vertebrae and even the base of my skull. I was hooked up to a ventilator, because I could not breath on my own. 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 in those first few days were focused on trying to stabilize me and my vital signs. I was on heavy doses of pain medications and I barely remember the time as it blurred into several days.
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 spinal surgeries. I was paralyzed from the chest down. I could barely move. I was totally out of it for about 3 weeks, and my memory of my stay at
Thomas Jefferson Hospital is also very cloudy. I was in and out of consciousness and heavily sedated.
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, due to the fact it was very possible I would remain dependent on it for the rest of my life. The longer you stay on a vent, the harder it is to get off. The weaning process was very uncomfortable and scary. There were times I thought I would suffocate without it. 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 can do without even thinking about it.
Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy would become 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 to do so. Working hard every day, 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 some ways 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. This damage sends interference and false pain signals to the brain, changing the type of pain sensation experienced. Nerve pain is something very intense, very painful, and very hard to explain. It’s chronic, intractable, daily pain and something that I must learn to manage, cope with, and live with at the same time.
After the Kessler Institute, I went back to Philly again where I underwent two more surgeries at Shriners’ Hospital. Because of my relatively young age, and the fact that I was 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 cord injury and regeneration. One surgery at Shriners 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 the average person, 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, of which my father, uncles, cousins, and grandfather are lifetime members. They and other volunteers from the community, including my best friend Andy constructed my new
living space while I was in the various 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. I pray that someday He will show me why this happened, why I survived, and how to navigate on this new journey I am embarking on as a quadriplegic. I have hope that new technologies may someday get me out of my chair and onto my feet. Patience is the hardest lesson I am learning as I wait for that day.
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 lots of physical activity. In a split second my whole life as I knew it, changed forever. I don’t have many answers, and there is so much I don’t know. But I do know that I am grateful to be alive. I have faith in God 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!
firstname.lastname@example.org is my email address and I welcome anyone who has read my story to write me
if you have any questions.