Tag Archives: sci

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.

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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.”

How I Cope with My Wife’s Stroke and My Son’s Spinal Cord Injury

At age 27, Sean McGonagle was attacked in a shocking act of violence at a bar just two days before Christmas. Shot in the leg and chest, Sean became paralyzed from the chest down. Two years after injury, Sean underwent surgery to remove an abscess on his spinal cord where the bullet had been lodged.

Just four days after his surgery, his mother, Kass, had a stroke that left her with limited mobility and communication skills. Sean and Kass stayed in the same hospital during recovery and pursued rehabilitation at Magee together.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive spinal cord injury stroke boat Spirit Philadelphia

Kass and Sean stayed in the same hospital during their recovery.

Father and husband Dennis McGonagle helped to initiate fundraising campaigns with HelpHOPELive to support both Sean and Kass. Dennis explains how his family is living with the lifelong impact of spinal cord injury and stroke.


How is your relationship with your family? 


My relationship with my family is very strong. I retired early so I could be a caregiver for my wife and son, and I have three daughters and three grandchildren that I spend time with. It is very important to all of us to stay close and help each other.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive

Dennis, center, retired so he could care for his wife, left, and son.


Why is fundraising important to you?  


Managing health is a minute-to-minute task. We have therapy three times a week, doctors’ appointments and daily care and companionship needs. As a quadriplegic, Sean suffers from a lot of pain and discomfort. Things will not get easier for him as time goes on; as a matter of fact, they will get progressively worse.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive

Sean with Joanne from Magee Rehabilitation Hospital

He tries to keep a positive attitude and holds onto the thought that there may be some life-changing medical advancements in his future.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive Magee Rehab physical therapy spinal cord injury

Therapy helps Sean cut down on “pain and discomfort” after injury.

For Sean, our last fundraiser was to help him purchase a new wheelchair. We have a long way to go, but the new chair will enable him to stand upright and increase his blood flow. In the long run, it will keep him from getting pressure sores and improve his overall health.

Sean McGonagle fundraising HelpHOPELive comedy hypnosis

Sean fundraises for a new wheelchair and other post-injury costs.

It has been almost three years since Kass’ stroke, and she is dealing with memory loss, speech problems and paralysis on her left side. She is reliant on a wheelchair for mobility support. Kass needs a stair lift to get up and down the staircase safely. We also need to make some modifications to her bathroom to make it safer and more accessible.

Kass McGonagle HelpHOPELive stroke

Kass fundraises with HelpHOPELive for home modifications, mobility needs and more.


How do you feel about fundraising with HelpHOPELive?


We have been in contact with the nonprofit since 2011. HelpHOPELive is a great nonprofit organization. From digital guidance and customized flyers to general understanding, HelpHOPELive has shown us the path to achieve our fundraising goals. We are also glad to have an avenue to allow our community to understand and support our fundraising goals and events.

Wheelchair van Sean McGonagle

“Picking up my new van! This never would have happened without your donations!”


Is it challenging to support a loved one as a caregiver while being a father?


Being a father and a caregiver is always a challenge, and in my case, I am helping to support both my wife and my son. They have similar needs and yet a lot of different individual needs as well. You can’t be in two places at one time, but somehow we have managed so far. Who better than a husband and father to take care of them? The best part about being a dad is the love of your children. A child is a gift and you get an opportunity to watch kids grow into young adults. My children are also my friends, which is very important to a healthy and honest family relationship.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive spinal cord injury stroke boat Spirit Philadelphia

Dennis says his family “is more important than any material things.”

Remember that your family is more important than any material things. Remember to always look after and cherish your children. You never know when they will need you the most.


Learn more about Dennis, Kass and Sean at helphopelive.org. Do you know a family struggling to cover the out-of-pocket expenses associated with a catastrophic injury or illness? Learn how we can help with a tax-deductible fundraising campaign and one-on-one support.

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.

6 People Who Inspire Us With Courage, Strength and Selflessness

Our signature fundraising gala Live It Up! kicks off at 6 p.m. on Friday, September 23, 2016 with a VIP reception for our generous sponsors and this year’s Live It Up! Awardees. Doors for the main event open at 7 p.m. Get your tickets today!

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Each year we honor individuals who have impacted our organization and their communities with their bravery, selflessness and strength with our annual Help, HOPE and Live Awards.


This year’s Help Award goes to…The Zeldathon Team for excellence in fundraising.


In December 2015, a group of avid video game players and live streamers joined forces for a 150-hour “The Legend of Zelda” gaming marathon. Streaming their activities live, the gamers collected donations for HelpHOPELive throughout the course of the marathon. Gamers encouraged donations from viewers at home by initiating “donation trains” and incentives, turning watching gameplay into an interactive and collaborative philanthropic experience.

Zeldathon Hope raised over $250,000 for HelpHOPELive through the generosity of contributors in over 40 countries. The funds raised were used to meaningfully contribute to HelpHOPELive’s mission to support community-based fundraising support for people with unmet medical and related expenses due to cell and organ transplants or catastrophic injuries and illnesses and to provide one-time emergency assistance grants for families facing an immediate financial need due to a medical crisis.

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“We pursued HelpHOPELive because we wanted to work with a charity that could make a direct impact through donations,” explained Zeldathon executive director Matthew Moffit. “We’re creating something more than just a marathon – it’s a real community, dedicated to the forces of good.”

Moffit, Zeldathon assistant director Liz and spokesperson Brooke are among the dedicated gamers who devoted their personal time to planning, managing and streaming the nonstop gaming marathon. They hope to support HelpHOPELive’s mission again during a future Zeldathon.


The HOPE Award goes to…Maria Weaver-Hollowniczky and Elizabeth Casperite for living donation and organ donor awareness.


Liz Casperite was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 2005. Her kidneys grew from fist-sized to football-sized. She joined the transplant waiting list in 2013, facing an average wait time of 4 or 5 years.

Liz and her family initiated a social media push to help Liz cut her wait short by finding a living kidney donor. Maria Weaver-Hollowniczky, a friend of a friend, saw Liz’s social media efforts and felt moved to step forward as a potential living donor.

Liz received the gift of life from Maria on September 17, 2015. Liz and Maria became inseparable during transplant preparations and have stood by each other ever since, partnering to share their story and lobby Congress in support of living donor protection legislation. They attended the 2016 Transplant Games in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Fundraising with HelpHOPELive will be an ongoing effort for Liz, who still faces post-transplant medical expenses from co-pays and travel for follow-up appointments to a lifetime of expensive antirejection medications. Liz must maintain Medicare A and B coverage until 2018 to financially protect Maria in case of post-transplant complications—something they hope to change for future living donors through their advocacy of the Living Donor Protection Act.


The Live Award goes to…John Michael LeMoine for inspiration after injury.


In July 2014, John Michael LeMoine was an Air Force airman enrolled in a firefighting technical school. On a day off, John was goofing around on the beach with his buddies. To avoid hitting a child playing on the beach, John jumped into the air to try to flip over him. He kept the child safe but shattered his cervical spine in the process.

It took six weeks of intensive therapy before John could wiggle his big toe.

John devoted himself to exercise-based therapy. Once insurance stopped covering his physical therapy, he turned to HelpHOPELive to fundraise for a lifetime of out-of-pocket medical and related expenses. In March 2015, John was able to stand independently for the first time since his injury.

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John and his mother, Lori, document his progress and his post-injury adventures, including skydiving, off-roading and adaptive sports with support from the Air Force Wounded Warrior program. “He can now make a sandwich,” Lori wrote in February 2016. “It seems so simple, but this was an impossible task before. These small achievements give him his independence back.” John embodies what it takes to build an engaged, motivated and multi-faceted new life after injury.


This year’s awardees will be honored at Valley Forge Military Academy’s Mellon Hall on September 23 from 7 to 11 p.m. among HelpHOPELive’s generous local supporters, board, staff and friends. Join us to celebrate the incredible milestones clients, volunteers and donors achieved in 2016!

New Video: Fundraising Changed My Life After A Spinal Cord Injury

In 2007, Jeff Harris was enjoying July 4 on the beach with friends when the unthinkable happened. “We were kicking a soccer ball around on the beach and my buddy kicked the ball in the water,” explained Jeff. As he dove into the water, “I hit right around the top of my head at the right angle, at the right speed, at the right tilt of the universe.”

Jeff broke his neck and became a C6 quadriplegic.

After they dealt with the initial shock and emotional trauma of Jeff’s injury, his family quickly began to realize how expensive life with paralysis would be. “It’s almost hopeless to get insurance companies to provide what these spinal cord injury patients need to have a great life,” said Jeff’s mom, Jan.

Jeff was facing extreme out-of-pocket expenses and co-pays. “Wheelchairs cost tens of thousands of dollars,” said Jeff, and that’s not to mention “medical bills and daily supplies” he would need for the rest of his life. Fundraising with HelpHOPELive changed Jeff’s life. “HelpHOPELive was a life ring for us,” said Jeff’s dad, Steve. “They know what works and they are able to give advice to folks like us who have never done this sort of thing before.”

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With support from their community, Jeff and his family planned an annual fundraiser that incorporated curling, one of Jeff’s biggest passions before his injury. The Curl-a-thon in honor of Jeff will soon enter its tenth year. “For these two days when we hold the Curl-a-thon, I am so humbled,” said dad Steve. “Everyone in Jeff’s sphere was just looking for a way to help him.

We’re proud to present our newest HelpHOPELive video featuring Jeff’s fundraising story. Tell us what you think by Tweeting @HelpHOPELiveOrg!

Jeff Harris HelpHOPELive Curl-a-Thon

Fundraising has helped Jeff to pursue independence and mobility

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!