Tag Archives: spine injury

Voices of Hope: Someone Strong to Lead the Way

On her blog Struggling with Serendipity, Cindy Kolbe documents the journey she and her daughter, Beth, took after Beth sustained a spinal cord injury in May 2000 at age 14.


I drove back from my son’s college concert near midnight. Exhausted, I glanced at my 14-year-old daughter, Beth, asleep in the passenger seat. We were only 10 minutes from home. I thought I could make it without falling asleep. Then I heard a road sign flatten on concrete. As the car flipped three times across a bare Ohio field, we left behind an ordinary life.

I escaped with cuts, bruises and blood-matted hair. Beth was another story. The car was cut open to rush her to a helicopter that would take her to the nearest hospital. A doctor in Toledo told my husband, John, that she was paralyzed. When he broke the news to Beth, she paused only a moment before simply responding, “Let’s talk about what I can do.”


Later, when I arrived, Beth lay flat in a maze of tubes and wires, her pretty face swollen, her neck in a brace. She greeted me with a small smile. Her usual upbeat attitude was muted but present–I should have felt gratitude for that, but I didn’t. In disbelief, I stared at the girl in the bed. How could she smile?

When Beth slept, a surgeon guided me to a chair. He was kind, but his words were devastating. The bones in her neck were shattered. After surgery, he told me that her spinal cord was severed at the C6-7 vertebrae. With all four of her limbs damaged, she was now a quadriplegic who would never walk.

The loss of hand function seemed especially cruel. Her fingers didn’t work and her muscles began to shrink (atrophy). Among many health risks, pneumonia stood out as a leading cause of death for quads—along with suicide.


With one mistake, I had hurt everyone I loved.

Whenever I closed my eyes, I saw the upside-down car and Beth slumped over her stomach on the ceiling, her neck at a disturbing angle. The image haunted me. How easy it would be to lose myself under a blanket of guilt. Instead, I focused on small moments. Beth needed me. I turned her to the side, straightened a sheet, adjusted a pillow, and stayed in sight. Sleepy, in a morphine haze, she told me, “I like it when you hold my hand.” Crying quietly, I could not make myself grateful for the partial feeling in her hands.


When Beth was transferred to rehab, we shared a room with a girl in a crib with high sides who made sad sounds. She was alone with a brain injury. We met a man with a spinal cord injury who needed a ventilator to breathe; he moved only his head. A teenager with paraplegia refused to get out of bed and moved to a nursing home; he had full use of his hands and arms.

As physical therapy started, Beth lay face down on her stomach, unable to lift her shoulders off the mat. Her body was moved for her. She had no strength. The therapy session finished with the difficult process of transferring her into a wheelchair. Beth opened her arms and I leaned into a hug. Her bent hand softly patted my back. Suddenly, I was grateful for arms and wrists that move. For lungs that breathe. For her ability to feel me pat her back in return.


After a month in rehab, Beth tried to sit up on the mat. She started on her back and concentrated on throwing one arm over the other to roll onto one side. It took several tries. She pushed down with her hands to raise her upper body incrementally to a shaky sitting position for the first time. Her body tottered back and forth in a battle of balance–Bambi on ice. My instincts screamed to help her, support her. Instead, I turned away to wipe my eyes.

She leaned forward and planted a hand on each side to steady herself. She looked up and smiled when she heard me clapping with the therapists. Even Beth seemed surprised by, and glad for, every small thing.


My daughter insisted on starting her freshman year of high school on time about three months after her injury. On the first day, she pushed herself slowly down the halls in a manual wheelchair. Four years later, she was able to independently care for herself and live in a dorm or apartment with no assistance, a rare feat for quads.


Beth’s attitude propelled her forward with me in tow. Little by little, I chipped away at my millstone of guilt. Sometimes we need someone strong to lead the way.

Now, all I see is what she can do.


Cindy Kolbe is a lifelong disability advocate who lives in Summerville, South Carolina. She managed group homes in Ohio and ran a nonprofit in Massachusetts. Her daughter Beth graduated from Harvard and Stanford Law and is employed as a health policy lawyer in Washington, D.C. Access her Blog and reach her via email.

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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

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!