Tag Archives: power chair

I Went from Independent Living to a Nursing Home After an Infection

My name is Jane Koza. I am 58 years old. I went from being a healthy adult to living in a nursing home by age 50. This is my story.


I was an all-star athlete in my youth, playing basketball and softball competitively. During my senior year of high school, we won the state championship in softball and basketball. I loved the experience of being on a team. Those great memories laid the groundwork for continuing athletics in college.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane was athletic and active in her youth


In 2005 when I was in my 40s, I learned that I needed knee surgery to walk comfortably. The knee surgery did not go as planned, and I contracted MRSA, which led to a second surgery for a total knee replacement—my knee joint had to be entirely removed.

After the second surgery, I slipped into a coma due to the infection. I went into a grand mal seizure and arthritic septic shock, resulting in a second infection. The infection traveled to my spine and left me with transverse myelitis, which resulted in paralysis from my chest down.

By April 2006, I was living a nursing home. I hadn’t even turned 50 years old yet.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane with one of her best friends, Stanley, in the nursing home


The transition was hard psychologically. You have to come to grips with the fact that you will never walk again. You expect to face medical challenges when you are in your 70s or 80s, not when you are in your 40s. It was also difficult to accept the fact that the best place for me to be would be in a nursing home where I could receive round-the-clock care as needed, including continual social and physical support.

I am different from the other residents here at the nursing home. I am still very young and active compared to most of the other residents. I still enjoy going to concerts, shopping, and visiting with friends outside of the nursing home, regularly.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane, pictured with her sister, is younger and more active than most other residents


It was extremely important to me to find independence and avoid being bedridden once I realized that I would be living in a nursing home. I also had to find a way to cover some of the medical expenses associated with my new life, including:

  • A wheelchair with greater flexibility and movement than the geriatric medical chair provided by the nursing home;
  • Special wheelchair cushions that reduce painful pressure sores, which are not covered at all by insurance;
  • Physical therapy so I can learn to transfer myself from my wheelchair to a bed or seat, and gain more self-sufficiency so I can someday leave this nursing facility;
  • Daily essentials like drainage bags, backpacks, cup holders, and adaptive equipment
Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane was overjoyed to meet her first Help Hope Live fundraising goal

These things can improve my quality of life and are just one part of what makes life worth living.

Even having the same caregiver day-to-day can improve your life when you are living with an illness like transverse myelitis. I will also encounter additional expenses in the future, so I am setting my sights on fundraising to offset the cost of a power chair, a private caregiver or aide, and more advanced physical therapy programs. These expenses can make a difference to my level of independence in the future. They would have a profound effect on my life.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane creates unique tree of life coloring pictures in exchange for donations


When my priority was to get a better chair than what was provided by the nursing home, I began fundraising with Help Hope Live for the Mid-Atlantic Catastrophic Illness Fund in 2015.

My beloved high school, Mother Seton, learned about my fundraising efforts and really came through to help me. The alumni association was instrumental in helping me reach my first fundraising goal. I couldn’t have done it without them. With their help, I was able to reach my goal and get the wheelchair I had been waiting for.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live Mother Seton

Jane’s former high school has helped her to fundraise

Help Hope Live has made a huge difference in my life, both in connecting me with old friends who can support me and in helping me monetarily offset the out-of-pocket medical expenses I could not afford alone. For that, I am eternally grateful.

To me, hope means that things can be better than they are today in the future.

Jane Koza Help Hope Live

Jane calls herself a “true survivor” navigating life with transverse myelitis


Jane Koza fundraises for the Mid-Atlantic Catastrophic Illness Fund. Click or tap here to read more stories about how mobility can change lives.

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.

Voices of Hope: Technology Supports Hobbies And Adventures After Injury

Susan “Suz” Welch had been living with severe arthritis for years when falls related to the condition caused her spinal cord to collapse in 2014. She is paralyzed from the waist down and continues to pursue rehabilitation to improve her mobility and maintain her independence. Suz explains how wheelchair photography and adaptive technology have had an impact on her life.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

Suz continues to grow her love of photography through technology


I am 75. I have been involved with technology on some level since I was a kid. My father was a body and fender professional and I spent a lot of time at his auto shop. When I was 11 or 12 I used a table saw at school and cut off my finger and damaged three others–that’s when I got my first experience with therapy, to get my fingers working again. I learned to type with three fingers and became just as fast as anyone else in the class on an old manual typewriter.

As an adult, I was the executive director of a local not-for-profit organization for many years. I directed a year-round camp facility in which we did darkroom photography and, later, digital photography. I also participated in a technology workshop in which I helped to teach young people and their parents how to use tablets and smartphones to learn more about the outdoors–for example: using Audubon identification books on tablets to identify birds in the wild.

After I retired in 2005, I directed three different camps where we used digital cameras and small printers. I found that some kids with behavioral challenges could focus better after learning how to use cameras. We saw great results.

Since I had been active for many years as a camper, counselor and camp director, it was very hard to accept becoming a paraplegic. Until my last fall, I was always able to get up and continue doing things. But the last fall crushed my spine. I was not willing to accept it at all. I thought I would get better and be able to walk again. I bet I asked four or five times every day why I could not do what I used to do. It was explained to me over and over again. I think I still have problems accepting my condition.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

“It was very hard to accept becoming a paraplegic.”

2010 was my last summer moderating camps. I pursued surgery to build a curve in my spine to enable my back to support me the way it should. Additional procedures helped to reinforce my spine so it could not bend and crush my spinal cord. Before the surgery, I could not stand, walk or sit for longer than 5 minutes because the pain was too severe. Immediately following surgery, I had no feeling from my chest through my legs. I was in an acute rehab program for six weeks in 2014, and that’s when I learned how to operate a power chair.

After I was released from the acute rehab unit, I went to a therapist, Kimbra Korte in Des Moines, Iowa. Kimbra challenged me every time I was there. I went two times a week, because everyone told me there was no way to know what I might get back. I started learning to do things again, but it was very slow progress.

I rode an FES bike in Des Moines and then I got an FES bike for my home. I ride two days a week, then walk with a walker one day, then do two more days on the bike and increase the resistance every five sessions. My walk is not like everyone else’s: I have to look at my feet when I walk, because I cannot tell where they are.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

“It was very slow progress” when Suz first entered rehab

In the beginning, I had to use a lift to get from my bed to my chair. Now, I can get to the side of the bed, use a belt and a walker and transfer to my chair. I reverse it in the evening. I can walk from one wall in our living room to a regular chair 15 feet away. I can walk about 60 feet outside, too.

My caregiver, Carolyn, was my camp nurse from 1998 to 2010. She and her four kids moved in with me. She is now retired.

Since I have been using the power chair, wheelchair photography has been a great outlet for me. I treat my chair like a four-wheeler and go to the pasture and down a dirt road every day. I have been taking pictures all my life, and I have always done photography with a darkroom. Since my injury, I had to give up the darkroom since it was in the basement. I donated my equipment to a local school and hunted all over for some sort of adaptive tech for my chair since a tripod or monopod would not work.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

“I am so happy with the equipment that it is my pleasure to share my story.”

BlueSky Designs is a company that creates multiple adaptive devices that can be attached to a wheelchair:  someone who uses a wheelchair, like me, can add a tray, computer, laptop, phone or camera plate to their chair. I was able to get an adapted camera component for my chair from BlueSky Designs. The component attaches to my chair so I can take photographs from my chair with the camera directly in front of me.

When I went to a local camera shop, all of the employees and the owner came out to see my device. They were so excited–they had been trying to help other people with wheelchairs to adapt their cameras and this was a brand new solution.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

An adaptive device allows Suz to take pictures from her chair

I will continue to rely on fundraising with HelpHOPELive to help me cover the cost of adaptive equipment. My fundraising has mostly happened with just a few close friends, some of whom were campers of mine during 1961 and ’62. I am so happy with the equipment I have benefited from that it is my pleasure to share my story. I entered three pictures into a local contest [pictures below], and one of them is now hanging in the local gallery for six weeks! I am making photo cards that I hope to sell at local farmer’s markets.

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I would love to be able to drive again and have my four-wheeler adapted so I can use it. I have gotten stuck in the mud with my chair three or four times (I am currently forbidden from going in any mud!). I live in the country, and I donated 16 acres of my land to Camp Hantesa so they could continue a riding program I had started in the 70s. Now they lease the horses so I can still use the 16 acres, and Ledges State Park is in my backyard, so I get to see birds, deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks and more. There are a lot of places I’d like to visit with the four-wheeler.


Suz fundraises with HelpHOPELive for out-of-pocket expenses including caregiver costs and rehabilitation to improve leg circulation and muscle strength. Would additional access to mobility technology improve your daily life? Start a fundraising campaign with our nonprofit at helphopelive.org.