Tag Archives: injury

Diving Deep: Learning to Stand, Snorkel and Reclaim a Sense of Self

Theo St. Francis has been exploring the world of body-connection since his 2013 C6 spinal cord injury at the start of his Mechanical Engineering studies at MIT. Having been opened to a whole new way of being through his practice of Pilates, he is working to make mindful movement a standard in neuro-recovery.

He has been fundraising with Help Hope Live for intensive physical therapy and cutting-edge rehabilitation since June 2014.


What would it feel like to be able to just jump – and start flying? Well, I don’t know, and the birds won’t say, but I’ll bet the experience would be indescribable, and ‘indescribable’ is something I know.

Since my body has been partially paralyzed for almost three years, it is understandable that I’ve forgotten what some things feel like. That’s how our plastic, use-it-or-lose-it brains work: the subconscious patterns of walking and standing, of dancing without thinking, don’t get reinforced when the muscular connection isn’t present.

This is part of the overwhelming feeling of loss that accompanies a paralyzing injury to the spinal cord (SCI) because, in some ways, one’s sense-of-self fades with the loss of those patterns. When the physical manner by which you relate to the world is changed, the emotional nature of that relationship is changed as well.

Theo St. Francis Help Hope Live diving

“One’s sense-of-self fades” with the loss of familiar physical patterns


A flash…


One day in May, I noticed something strangely familiar during my regular 3-hour neuro-Pilates workout. We prepared to use a trapeze table, or trap table, a piece of Pilates equipment with a wooden bar hanging by springs from a frame. For some time my trainer and I had been stumped – I had developed feeling in my hip muscles while kneeling, yet when on my feet, my system turned off.

trapeze table Pilates

An example of a Pilates trapeze table

On that afternoon, we incrementally raised my knees on foam wedges until my feet were on the floor; with my hands on table-uprights, the vertical bars at each end of the trap table, and an arc blocking my knees, I lowered myself into a squat and, for the first time ever, pressed back up to standing!

“Wow, so this is what it feels like to connect to my legs!” was my first thought, and after the third unsupported squat, I felt a visceral excitement and had a fleeting image of letting go of the trap table, turning toward the door, and just walking outside. It was as if my body just remembered its own capability. Can you imagine? It was glorious. Indescribable!


Progress has been from many directions


Since my injury in Boston Harbor in August 2013, I have received care from experts in hospitals, rehab centers, SCI CrossFit gyms, Eastern medicine enclaves, and Pilates studios. I’ve learned from a variety of therapists with different but overlapping skills and set up equipment in our home to extend workouts throughout the day and evening. I feel very fortunate to have found the talented members that comprise my rehabilitation team.

Throughout this extensive process, the unflagging assistance of my family members has been invaluable. Their efforts– from the early days in the hospital to working with the medical staff and learning the techniques that would help me in daily activities to seamlessly managing logistics until I could do so myself–have been essential, both in the acts themselves and in the time and space they’ve created for me to pursue my therapies with rigor.

Also significant in my recovery, has been working with the Neuro-Kinetic Pilates specialists on Maui. In my most recent sessions there this June, I was able to find my own lateral hip strength in a stagger-stand position. I have been working to achieve this stability since I first muscularly connected my torso 18 months ago. It is immensely satisfying to finally achieve this result.

Theo St. Francis Help Hope Live rehab

“It is immensely satisfying” to regain physical ability at any level after injury

While all of this bodily improvement was happening, something even more significant occurred between my sessions: independence…in two ways.

For the first time really ever, this 21-year-old lived completely by himself. In truth, it was for less than a week – friends and family visited me on the island at other times – but, even so, after all I was told by doctors about the purported permanence of my paralysis, to be able to thrive on my own was a turning point in my recovery.

I am quite aware that this independence has only been achievable through the incredible support of so many over the last few years, especially all of those who have helped me and my parents with fundraising and driving to therapy appointments. My family is sincerely grateful for the support of so many people through Help Hope Live that make it possible for me to pursue the most effective recovery treatments. This sense of wonder for the gifts of support is also indescribable.


Diving deep


The second form of independence was very different. The day I fractured my C6 vertebra was less than a week before my first practice on MIT’s Varsity Swim Team, to which I’d been recruited as a backstroker. Even with all my progress since, I still require a hip-float to stay above water. That’s fine; except when I was in Maui swimming above scores of fish, coral, and turtles along the reefs 10 feet below. There was no way I was going to forgo some of the world’s premier reef-level snorkeling by being bound to the surface. Confident in how my improved core strength enabled me to control my breathing, I unclipped the float, handed it to my friend, and madly used my arms to fight the saltwater’s buoyancy. After some practice, I became comfortable descending over 20 feet and, on my last day on the island, I swam floatless for a full 40 minutes.

To me, going floatless is about far more than being eye-to-eye with Reef Triggerfish. It’s about stripping away the support I think I need to discover my true abilities, and in so doing, rediscovering that sense of self. It’s about diving deep into a fear, a perceived limitation, and returning to the surface with new appreciation for what is possible.

Through these moments of ecstatic, indescribable joy I can happily see that this truly may be the beginning of the final stage of my overcoming.

Theo St. Francis Help Hope Live smile

Theo pursues and relishes “moments of ecstatic, indescribable joy”


Last fall, Theo St. Francis presented his first workshop and co-wrote a textbook on Pilates for SCI with his trainer, Stephanie Behrendt, and they plan to expand the curriculum (zebrafishneuro.com for more). Theo has also found his home regimen to be vital in giving him space to explore, so he is developing an at-home protocol for individuals who have endured a spinal injury to understand their bodies in new ways. He absolutely intends to return to MIT when he feels his body is ready. Connect with him on his website, Facebook (fb.com/THEOvercoming1 or personal), and Instagram.

What the Holiday Season Means to Me After a Spinal Cord Injury

In 2009, Kirk Williams was a motivated Colorado sociology graduate who filled his downtime with outdoor adventures and sports. In November of that year, a “complete freak accident, like trip-over-your-shoelaces kind of crash” changed his life: Kirk sustained a C5 spinal cord injury as he flew over the handlebars of his mountain bike. The injury left him paralyzed with a limited amount of feeling in his legs and limited use of his fingers.

kirk_10

Kirk didn’t want his injury to put the brakes on his full and active lifestyle

As soon as he was able, Kirk began to immerse himself once again in outdoor adventures and sports. “My injury did influence my hobbies but I haven’t stopped doing what I love,” he explained. “I still do photography, camp, mountain bike [and] new hobbies like wheelchair rugby, scuba diving and hand cycling. I love travel and I was not reluctant at all to travel after my injury.”

Photo by SCI Recovery Project via Facebook.

Rehabilitation helped Kirk to reclaim his adventurous lifestyle, little by little. Source

Kirk is the founder, director and pilot/camera operator of the UAV-powered video production agency Birds Eye Optics. “It’s wild to think that while most people may think that since I’m in a wheelchair, my perspective is limited,” observed Kirk. “Actually, with my career, I see further than ever before.”

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“With my career, I see further than ever before.”

He credits fundraising and community support as essential parts of his journey. “My community of family and friends has been one of the most significant parts of me getting where I am today,” said Kirk. “Without the help of friends, family and HelpHOPELive, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the amazing equipment and lifestyle that I love to live. With my incredible support system, I’ve surpassed even my wildest dreams of what is possible.

I see each [injury] anniversary as a day to look back and see just how far I’ve progressed. I remind myself that anything is possible. I’ve taken the cards I’ve been dealt to not only survive but thrive in what first seemed nearly impossible circumstances.”

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On each injury anniversary, “I remind myself that anything is possible.”

Asked about the end of the year approaching, Kirk captured a sentiment shared by many of our clients, whether they are living with an injury or waiting for a transplant: the holidays are a time for hope, family and looking to the future. “The holidays are always a wonderful time of year,” explained Kirk. “I can catch up with friends and family and we can enjoy each other’s company. As crazy as they are, it’s always rewarding to have my entire family together in one place.”

The hustle and bustle of the season doesn’t appeal to Kirk, who said, “my favorite part of the holidays is being able to relax with the ones you love. It’s not about the busy times for me…it’s the downtime that I cherish the most. And the food!”

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What do the holidays mean to Kirk? Hope, family and looking to the future.

I usually make a New Year’s resolution,” said Kirk. “It’s a good chance for me to attack my goals with a refreshed set of eyes.”

His advice for others entering the holiday season and looking ahead to the new year? “Life is short, so why not try to experience it to the fullest? Get out there and try everything you can. You can be as happy or as upset about your injury and your life as you choose to be. It’s entirely up to you.

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Kirk says happiness after a spinal cord injury “is entirely up to you.”

What does hope mean to Kirk? “Hope means having my eyes set on what lays ahead, and knowing there is always a possibility for positivity given the right mindset.”

We know fundraising can make a significant impact on an individual’s life through the power of community, both financially and emotionally. As you continue to trust our nonprofit for a lifetime of medical fundraising support, we hope this holiday season brings you memorable times with friends and family and plenty of opportunities to look ahead, with hope.

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From our family to yours! Photo by Kirk.


Kirk Williams continues to fundraise with HelpHOPELive for the lifetime out-of-pocket medical and related expenses associated with his injury.

Bella Da Dawg is Kirk’s four-legged companion. She “spends most of her days dreaming of tennis balls” and “screwing up sound from her habitual snoring and striking good looks.”

My Health, Independence and Financial Challenges 5 Years After Injury

Danielle Watson became paralyzed from the waist down in June 2011. In May 2016, Danielle completed her master’s in occupational therapy.


People are shocked all the time that I drive and live independently. I don’t blame them, because I didn’t know what people with disabilities could do either, until my injury. I have managed (with help from others) to figure out how to live independently.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

“I have managed to figure out how to live independently.”

I consider my wheelchair to be an extension of myself at this point. It really bothers me to hear the terms “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound” because the wheelchair is an awesome machine that allows me to be independent. I also rely on my NuProdx shower bench and I now have one on the toilet, too, to prevent pressure sores. My car is also an important part of my independence. It has been adapted with hand controls.

I have had increasing complications with my health over the past 5 years. Unfortunately, spinal cord injury affects many of my bodily systems, so I must continue to adapt. The average person doesn’t realize that I am not just sitting. That is the easiest part. Spinal cord injury affects all body systems. I usually keep this hidden from people and try to portray that I have everything together. However, I constantly have to think about my bladder, my digestion, my bones, my joints, my body mechanics, avoiding pressure sores, my temperature, my water intake…the list goes on!

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Danielle fell 250 feet. The injury “affects many of my bodily systems”

Therapy has had a huge impact on my life. I am so grateful to have had so many good health professionals after my injury. I already wanted to be a therapist before my accident, but my injury introduced me to occupational therapy, which I had never heard of before. My hope is that I can use my personal experience and empathy to help others after a life-altering injury.

I have faced significant financial challenges since the injury. By the time I get my license to practice OT, I will have been unemployed for almost 6 years. I have student loans from undergraduate schooling that I have been unable to pay off and they have been accumulating interest. I had to decide if I would be able to live my life on social security or minimum wage or take on the loans and the hope for a better life. I am trying to do the right thing and support myself financially.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

“I am trying to do the right thing and support myself financially.”

HelpHOPELive has thankfully shielded me from many of the medical expenses that go along with this injury. I don’t know how I would survive without it. There are a lot of supplies and pieces of equipment that I need that Medicare doesn’t cover. Sometimes Medicare makes errors and I get stuck with huge medical bills. I have lived in five different places within the last 5 years and I have had to renovate them all to make them accessible. When I begin to work, I will lose Medicare and I will have private insurance, but I am thankful to HelpHOPELive for helping me cover deductibles, medications and procedures through fundraising.

The HelpHOPELive campaign in my honor has been extremely important because I don’t have to agonize over purchases or costs that are medically necessary or helpful in maintaining my independence, which really contributes to my mental health. I have so many other worries with my spinal cord injury that it is really helpful to have one less worry.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Fundraising helps Danielle to live independently.

I was introduced to adaptive sports 6 months after my injury. I skied as soon as I was medically able. Oregon Adaptive Sports has been crucial to my recovery–I received scholarships for the lessons I needed to learn to ski and they have been a family to me. I met most of my friends though OAS and I continue to be a participant and an advocate for the organization. HelpHOPELive helps with the expenses that are not covered by the scholarships I get.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Danielle participates in adaptive sports, triathlons and marathons.

I love to travel now just as much as I did before my injury. Having the right equipment really helps. I have a shower chair that comes apart and fits into a small square bag. That has made travel a lot easier, and I bring it with me everywhere. I want to travel the world but currently it is easier and more accessible for me to travel within the United States because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Travel is easier for Danielle with the right adaptive equipment.

I look forward to being self-sufficient again. I look forward to buying a home someday that I can renovate for my needs, and I look forward to getting into a routine that will allow me to finally get my finances under control.

Thankfully, I have a degree in philosophy, so I had a lot of time to think about big questions before my injury. I believe in the power of your thoughts and your words to manifest your life. I try my best to shed the thoughts that don’t serve me well and think positively. I have gotten better at this over time and I believe it is something you can practice until it becomes more natural. Having a disability can be alright if you have access to the right equipment and support, which is why HelpHOPELive is so necessary.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

“Having a disability can be alright if you have access to the right equipment and support.”


Learn more about Danielle and make a contribution in her honor at helphopelive.org. Follow her blog for ongoing insights on life and possibilities after injury.

How “The Porkanizer” Overcame The Odds To Become A BBQ Legend

Sandy Fulton is not your average event planner. Under the affectionate nickname, “The Porkanizer,” Sandy organizes and grows events with passion and expertise from her lifetime of work in the hospitality industry.

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

Sandy Fulton, center, is “The Porkanizer”

Sandy is a Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) Contest Organizer and a member of the KCBS Board of Directors. She helps organize KSBC-sanctioned competitions including Philly’s Inaugural Fire Up Hope BBQ Festival, an event on September 10- 11, 2016 at the Devon Horse Show Grounds to benefit HelpHOPELive. We picked her brain about her career beginnings, the accident that changed her life and how to plan a successful BBQ fundraiser.

Fire Up Hope BBQ

Sandy is helping to organize the Fire Up Hope BBQ Festival to benefit HelpHOPELive


Sandy, how did you get your start in the hospitality industry?


More than 25 years ago I was a restaurant owner in Ocean City, Maryland, and after that I worked at the Ocean City Convention Center. I really fell in love with promoting and booking conventions and events at the Center. From there, I spent 15 years in the hotel industry in sales working in promotion and training sales departments for hotels all over the country. I was asked to be the executive director of Tourism for Wicomico County, Maryland.

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

“This job was my destiny,” said Sandy

That job was my destiny. I began to use all of my experience in sales, promotions, food and beverage, and marketing to promote our county. I contacted KCBS and held my first BBQ festival in Salisbury, Maryland. in 2002. Within 3 years, the event grew to be the largest of its kind this side of the Mississippi. After I retired in 2012, I was asked to promote another BBQ festival. That grew into managing seven events per year.


You had to retire early due to medical challenges. Was that a difficult time for you?


Yes, probably the most difficult time in my life. I fell and broke my hip and arm. It was assumed that in four to six weeks I could go back to work. After a few weeks, the pain in my hip and leg became worse: my hip was out of socket and my pelvis was broken, seemingly during the initial operation. Four more operations to correct the areas had failed. As soon as I stood, my hip fell out and I would be standing on my ankle.

I was finally put in an ambulance by my doctor and taken into a six-hour operation. I was told I probably would never walk again. I was so distraught.

Hospital

Sandy was told by her doctor she would probably never walk again

I spent six weeks in the hospital and six weeks in rehab. I began physical therapy at home and in a nearby facility. I was in a wheelchair, and I was determined not to stay in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. It was obvious by then that I would not be able to return to work. My job was a very active job and with the pain and limitations, I had no choice but to retire. I cried for days. I loved my job so much. I felt that the job was my destiny, and that I had prepared all my life for that job.

I was given a wonderful retirement party with county and state officials in attendance and many awards and recognitions. That made it hurt even more. I was devastated. I decided to concentrate on walking again. I had to. It took me three years, but I was able to walk with a cane. I am grateful to my family, friends, therapy and, of course, God for believing in me.


Can you tell us a little about the KCBS? Why is its approval important?


KCBS is an organization that promotes the love of BBQ. It is the largest organization of its kind, and it is not only based in the United States. It has become a worldwide organization with contests in Europe, Puerto Rico and other regions.

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

KCBS promotes a passion for BBQ through events and engagement

The organization has very strict rules and the judging is done by people who have taken a KCBS Judges class. They judge based on appearance, taste and tenderness.


Why did you decide to specialize in KCBS-sanctioned events?


I made the decision based on my love of creating an event, and the BBQ people that I met and the loyalty they showed me. It is also such a great way to introduce BBQ to new areas.

BBQ

Event planning provides an opportunity “to introduce BBQ to new areas”

KCBS really supports nonprofits. 90% of my events are for nonprofits. The competitors love that element and so do those attending. They get to have fun and help a charity at the same time. When holding a fundraiser, advertising that it is for a charitable cause is very important.


How did your first 2002 KCBS-sanctioned event evolve over time?


Initially, we had three months to put it together and 17 competitors. Each year, we added something new to the event to keep people interested. We eventually had to put a limit on the numbers of competitors, food vendors and craft vendors because we were running out of space! We advertised a great deal and that helped. People started planning for the event months in advance. We added a children’s section and that really helped the event, too.

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

Sandy loves to watch her events grow over time


What is your favorite part of your job? Your least favorite?


My favorite part is working with the competitors. They have stood by me and encouraged me when I had to retire. When I held my first festival, I walked into their meeting and they gave me a standing ovation. That’s when I knew that everything was going to be alright.

My least favorite part of my job is after the competition and awards (ceremony) when they all leave me!

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

Sandy’s favorite part of event planning is “working with the competitors”


What does the word HOPE mean to you?


The word hope had a different meaning to me before my accident. We all take for granted being able to walk across a room, drive and do day-to-day activities. So I used to use hope in a simple and kind way, “Hope you have a great day,” “Hope it doesn’t rain today,” or “Hope everyone likes the meal I just prepared.”

When you go through a devastating accident and don’t know what you are going to face in the future, the word hope means something different. When you live with a disability, you look at things differently. When I pulled up to a store, I never used to think about whether or not I could make it to the door. Now I have to look where I am walking, monitor the surface and the people near me. Now I think, I hope I can get to the door, I hope I don’t slip, and, sadly enough, I hope people don’t stare at me and look at me differently than they used to.

door

“I hope I can get to the door, I hope I don’t slip, I hope people don’t stare.”

Hope has a new meaning now. I hope I can be the person I used to be and I hope that I do not let a disability stop me from being who I need to be.


Anything else you’d like to share with us?


I am excited to introduce BBQ to Devon! You will see how dedicated people are and how much people love meeting competitors and trying competition BBQ. When a charity like yours is involved, success means even more.


You can learn more about Sandy by contacting her via email. Don’t forget to buy your tickets for the Fire Up Hope BBQ Festival to taste real KCBS-sanctioned BBQ made possible by “the Porkanizer!”

5 Unforgettable Facts About Diving And Spinal Cord Injuries

“The only safe dive is the one you never take,” claimed an infographic from Shepherd Center. Is it true that diving puts you at risk? How serious is the connection between diving and spinal cord injuries?

July is the number one month for diving injuries by a wide margin. Here are 5 facts you need to know to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.


Fact 1: Diving is the fourth leading cause of paralyzing spinal cord injuries.


According to Shepherd Center, diving makes the list of the top five causes of spinal cord injuries with paralysis. 89% of individuals who get hurt diving are male and 11% are female. Most individuals who are injured are between 20 and 29 years old.

Shepherd Hospital SCI Dive Accidents Poster


Fact 2: There are multiple ways to sustain an injury while diving.


There are multiple ways for a dive to end in injury or paralysis based on the location and structure of the spinal cord. The severity of disability depends on the level of the spinal cord where the damage occurs.

The vertebrae of the spine, separated by intervertebral fibrous discs, protects the nervous system’s spinal cord. It is possible to damage the spinal cord by injuring the vertebrae and discs or by injuring the spinal cord itself. “Severe damage to the cord and nerves emerging from the vertebral column will cause paralysis,” reported WHO.

Neck Injury Under Wave rotational Neck Injury Under Wave Verticle Compression & Hyperflexion

A user forum on Apparelyzed highlighted some of the many ways that diving can lead to a life-altering injury:

“My husband dove into a pool on Labor Day weekend. He is a C4.”

“My spouse dove into a sponge pit. He is now a C5/6.”

“[To me] dives must include anything headfirst, whether it be into lakes, swimming pools, the sea, trampolines or bouncy castles.”

“I made a conscious though foolish decision to launch myself from my patio roof into an above ground pool ten feet away. It was a calculated risk that turned ugly. C5/6 anterior incomplete, with all the bells and whistles.”

“I dove into a surfboard. C7 complete.”

Dumped on the seabed by a huge wave…C4/5 complete.”

“When you swim competitively, you dive into the pool at the shallow end from a racing block. I was goofing around and dove too deep and hit the bottom.”

“I dove off a 70-foot-high cliff and was fine. Then I dove into a shallow area (of water) from about 6 to 7 feet and hit the sand on the bottom, fracturing my spine at C5/6.”


Fact 3: Water can be deceptive, even if you are a good judge of depth.


Many individuals who sustained a spinal cord injury from diving echo the same lament: “I thought I had good perception skills. I thought I could trust myself to stay safe.” The truth is that water often appears to be deeper than it is, which can lead to devastating errors of judgment even for experienced swimmers and divers.

HelpHOPELive diving safety

Even experienced swimmers can misjudge depth

“The physics of what happens is unforgiving, as a diver can enter the water at 15 feet per second. Most of these accidents occur in water that is less than 3 feet deep,” explained Dr. Robert Bohinski in a PSA from Mayfield Clinic. “These accidents [are] completely preventable.


Fact 4: A single dive can alter your life forever.  


In 2014, Dillon Connolly was swimming with friends when he performed a simple dive from one area of the water to another. Storms had created a sandbar beneath the water, and the impact shattered Dillon’s C5-C7 vertebrae. What followed was “the longest year of Dillon’s life,” explained girlfriend Kerry Sheridan. “Immediate surgery, nearly a month of intensive care, three months of intensive physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and lifestyle adaptations.”

Dillon Connolly HelpHOPELive

Dillon shattered his C5-C7 vertebrae while diving

Dillon explained that being an experienced swimmer isn’t enough to protect you from a dive that can severely alter the rest of your life. “I swam my entire life competitively,” he explained. “It even paid for college. I broke my neck diving into a wave where the sandy bottom went from deep to too shallow. I tell everyone I meet who asks what happened to never dive unless you can see the bottom, and to tell their kids and friends, too.”

Dillon Connolly HelpHOPELive

Dillon with his girlfriend, Kerry, and dog, Reef


Cole Sydnor was 16 when a diving accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. “The average person may not understand the extent to which our injuries affect us ‘behind the scenes,” Cole explained in an interview. “Most people…are never exposed to what it takes for [us] to shower, dress, use the restroom, etc. Those are the hardest parts about living with a spinal cord injury.”

Cole Sydnor HelpHOPELive

Cole was 16 when he became paralyzed from the chest down

To add to the physical and emotional challenges, spinal cord injuries can come along with a host of pricey out-of-pocket expenses. “Any medical expenses deemed unnecessary by insurance fall on my family and it becomes their responsibility to make those purchases,” Cole explained. “My elevator, room and bathroom renovation, and truck were all expenses that our community rallied to help fund.”

Cole Sydnor HelpHOPELive

Cole’s community “rallied to help fund” his out-of-pocket needs

Today, Cole and his family are vocal advocates for swimming and diving safety with the No What UR Divin’ N2 campaign. “I’ve been able to raise awareness about spinal cord injuries and spread a message about the importance of diving safety to youth in my community,” Cole said.

Cole Sydnor HelpHOPELive

Cole and his family are now diving safety advocates


Jeff Granger Harris broke his neck diving into the ocean in 2007. “He ran in to jump over a wave like me and him had done 20,000 times,” explained Jeff’s brother, Greg. Jeff hit his head “at the right angle, at the right speed, at the right tilt of the universe” and became paralyzed. “Anything you’re used to doing, you can’t do anymore in Jeff’s situation,” noted Greg.

Jeff Harris HelpHOPELive

Fundraising helps Jeff expand his mobility options

Jeff will face lifelong physical and financial challenges because of a split-second dive. “This is the only life that I have and I’m going to make the best of it. HelpHOPELive allows you some of that ability through fundraising,” he said. Fundraising has helped Jeff to bridge the gap between what insurance will cover and what he needs for a fulfilling and engaging life.

Jeff’s incredible story will be highlighted in an upcoming video from HelpHOPELive. Subscribe to our YouTube channel today and be among the first of our followers to see it!

Jeff Harris HelpHOPELive

A new video tells Jeff’s story


Lauren Shevchek had been swimming competitively for over a decade. At age 19, she dove into a pool and fractured three cervical vertebrae. She lost feeling from her chest downward.

Lauren Shevchek HelpHOPELive

Lauren was a competitive swimmer before her diving injury

Lauren worked through months of inpatient rehabilitation to regain some of her independence. She is beginning to recover some feeling beneath her injury site, though she mostly only experiences those sensations as pain. As her mother, Janice, explained, “We have learned to celebrate any sensation, including pain, as a sign that things are reconnecting.”

Lauren and her family speak publicly about the dangers of diving in order to reduce the number of diving-related injuries. Janice explained why she is a vocal advocate for diving safety. “Teens in particular are shocked when I mention that paralysis is not just about walking. It’s about losing your ability to urinate and move your bowels on your own,” Janice said. “Once they begin to understand, they will never forget how devastating the injury is.”

Lauren Shevchek HelpHOPELive

Lauren speaks publicly about the dangers of diving even as an experienced swimmer


Fact 5: You can make a difference.


You have a responsibility to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from preventable diving-related spinal cord injuries. Here are a few things you can do right now:

  1. Educate yourself about safe behaviors and share what you learn with your loved ones.
  2. Always swim with a lifeguard.
  3. Enter water feet first, even if you do not plan to dive.
  4. Don’t dive at all to maximize your chances of preventing injury and paralysis.
  5. Take the Feet First Pledge! Save and share the graphic below or share it via Facebook or Twitter.

HelpHOPELive

“Have the conversations,” urged Janice Shevchek. “Share Lauren’s slogan with kids: ‘If you can’t see through it, don’t dive into it.‘ Never dive headfirst into water you can’t see through, no matter how experienced you are. And don’t ever act on a dare or try risky stunts. The consequences just aren’t worth it.

Mobility Matters: Community Support Can Open Doors After Injury

As Mobility Awareness Month continues, we hear from Cole Sydnor, who was 16 when a diving accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. Today, almost five years after the accident, loved ones describe him as a fierce competitor, a compassionate friend and a community member dedicated to giving back.

Cole Sydnor HelpHOPELive

Cole coaches the Richmond Sportable Spokes wheelchair basketball team


Are mobility and independence important to you?


Mobility and independence are important no matter who you are. For me specifically, they are of the utmost importance, because a spinal cord injury can prohibit one from enjoying them freely. It has taken great effort to recover some semblance of the mobility and independence I once had. Now that I have, mobility and independence are allowing me to successfully navigate college and even hold a full-time internship away from home.


How has physical therapy impacted your life?


Without physical therapy, not only would I have an incomplete understanding of what I am capable of, I wouldn’t even have built up the strength to reach that potential.


What financial challenges has your family faced since the injury?


Financially, expenses were centered on making everything accessible. That began with adding an elevator to my house and converting my room and bathroom so they would be completely accessible—all three projects were very expensive. We also had to purchase a truck which could accommodate a specific (wheelchair) lift so that I’d be able to drive.

Cole Sydnor HelpHOPELive

The financial strain on Cole’s family was “significant” after injury

To this day, any medical expenses deemed unnecessary by insurance fall on my family, and it becomes their responsibility to make those purchases out of pocket. Expenses add up quickly. One current expense is outpatient physical therapy. On top of paying for college, the financial strain has been significant.


How did your community support you after you were injured?


At the time, I was certain that my life had been irreparably changed for the worse. Motivating myself was not enough to get my butt in gear, so I relied on friends and family to help me find that motivation to work towards recovery. I was able to lean on my loved ones whose encouragement was neverending. Without that presence constantly pushing me forward, it’s likely that I’d still be swallowed by despair, doing nothing and helping no one.

Expenses which go uncovered by insurance can rack up quickly. My elevator, room and bathroom renovation, and truck were all expenses that our community rallied to help fund. Without my community, we would have had no shot at those things and more.

Cole Syndor HelpHOPELive

Friends and family were a big source of support


Can you describe how it felt to go to college away from home?


Well, I was very nervous and apprehensive about going away to college. What comforted me was the proximity of campus to my home and the fact that my brother was going to be living with me. Like when I was first injured, I really relied on the encouragement and support of my friends and loved ones to make the leap to living on campus.

In hindsight, I was over-worried. The transition was surprisingly smooth, largely due to the very accommodating services of University of Richmond. They put in hard paths where they may have only been an off-road path, moved classes to the most accessible buildings, and placed me in a spacious room centrally located on campus.


What do you think the average person doesn’t realize about spinal cord injuries?


The average person may not understand the extent to which our injuries affect us “behind the scenes.” Most people only encounter people with spinal cord injuries when they are out in public but are never exposed to what it takes for them to shower, dress, use the restroom, etc. Those are the hardest parts about living with a spinal cord injury and unless someone makes an effort to understand, he or she may never realize it.


What are you most proud of?


I’ve been able to raise awareness about spinal cord injuries and spread a message about the importance of diving safety to youth in my community and beyond. A mother told me a story of how her son jumped off a river dock and broke his leg, not realizing that the water was very shallow. She was angry with him, but then he told her, “Mom, I didn’t dive. I remembered Cole’s story.”

Cole Sydnor

Cole is proud of his diving safety advocacy work


What are you looking forward to this year?


First and foremost, I’m looking forward to helping out with a fundraising event which will benefit a foundation that offers private scholarships for varsity or collegiate athletes who have been injured or become chronically ill. Next, I would say graduating from college. After that, if I could land a stable job in my field of interest, I would be stoked.

Most of all though, I look forward to the day that there is a cure for spinal cord injuries. My life would be transformed in an instant, the same way it was on the day I was injured. To me, the word “hope” means that one day I’ll walk again.


Do you know someone who needs community support to live a mobile and independent life after injury? Learn more about fundraising for mobility essentials at helphopelive.org. Mobility matters!

Between Hope And Acceptance

Abi Dietz was on her way to school in September 2012 when an auto accident left her with a severe traumatic brain injury. After the accident, Abi was unable to move or communicate. After extensive inpatient rehabilitation, in June 2013, Abi was able to move into her mother’s home. Her family began fundraising with HelpHOPELive for uninsured expenses to help improve Abi’s quality of life and maximize her mobility and independence. Abi’s mother, Georgina, gives us an idea of how life changes after a traumatic injury.

Abi Dietz HelpHOPELive

Abi was injured in 2012


Describe a day in Abi’s life.


Abi is 100% dependent on the assistance of others for all activities of daily living. Each morning when Abi wakes up, I or another caregiver do passive range-of-motion exercises with her. We do her personal care and get her into her wheelchair using a hoyer lift. We then read to her, watch YouTube music videos or do other movement exercises, such as throwing a beach ball and asking her to bat or kick it back to us. This responsive movement is actually new, and even though it seems slight, we are glad that she is responding more than she previously had been.

We have Abi stand in the standing frame three times per week. We take her to scheduled doctor’s appointments, the mall, a local art museum and to the park when the weather is nice. We have a music therapist come in weekly and spend an hour working with her. She listens to familiar songs she used to like, and the therapist tries to get her to play a digital guitar on an iPad or move her hand and arm to play a simple instrument.


Have you noticed any improvements since the injury?


Abi is now able to move her left side at times, but her communication is inconsistent. At times, she is more alert and moves more to look around at her environment. She also shows more movement when giving someone a fist bump, trying to hold something and letting it go again, or reacting to someone throwing a ball towards her.

Abi Dietz HelpHOPELive

Abi is currently 100% dependent on the assistance of others


What are some of the biggest challenges of life with a traumatic brain injury?


The accident has changed our family dynamics in many ways and it has been difficult. Finances are a struggle as well as feelings of isolation. The struggle between accepting what is and still having hope is also a challenge.


What are you fundraising with HelpHOPELive for?


We have been able to purchase an accessible van thanks to fundraising and financial help from a family member, but we still have outstanding expenses. Abi was a musician and music therapy has reached her in places that other therapies haven’t. This type of therapy is not covered by insurance and we use the money raised through HelpHOPELive to pay for it. We also fundraise for in-home massage therapy and physical therapy. Abi has painful spasticity issues and these therapies help stretch and relax her so that she is more comfortable.

music therapy

Music therapy is not covered by insurance


What does hope mean to you?


Hope means believing that things can change. It takes a lot of patience to wait for change to happen and as I said before, it is hard to find the balance between hope and acceptance.


What can the average person do to recognize Brain Injury Awareness Month in Abi’s honor?


You can donate to HelpHOPELive in honor of Abi to help her secure life-enhancing therapeutic treatment that could help her regain mobility and communication skills. You can also send a card to her or to anyone who has a traumatic brain injury. We receive beautiful cards with nature photography from one couple at least once per month. It is so nice to know we are not forgotten.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month


Follow Abi’s story at helphopelive.org. If you know a family that needs help covering the uninsured expenses related to a traumatic injury, start a fundraising campaign with our nonprofit today.