On May 9, 2002, I was on vacation in Florida with my best friend. It was great to have a break from work and just relax. I considered not taking any calls, but decided I would receive calls only from family. During that vacation, I got one of the worst calls of my life. My brother, John, had been in a scuba-diving accident.
John had “the bends,” a decompression illness. A nitrogen bubble had formed in his spinal cord’s blood supply. The bubble caused a tear where it was trapped. The tear swelled. John would be an “incomplete paraplegic” for the rest of his life—he was paralyzed, but would be able to use his arms and hands.
I was in shock.
My brother had been a commercial diver. He performed work underwater, building bridges and oil platforms and repairing ships. He is a strong-willed, determined man, and I couldn’t imagine how his disability would now change the course of his life. I would soon see that he retained his strong will. John realized that he could let his situation make him miserable or he could turn it into good by helping others.
John became a mentor for newly injured patients at hospitals and rehab centers. He is also involved with the Triumph Foundation, a nonprofit organization that inspires people with spinal cord injuries to keep going. He is in charge of sponsorships, fundraising, and public relations. He offers disabled people hope that they can still live a productive, good life.
My brother is not bitter about what happened. He realizes that life has a bigger purpose for him than he ever imagined: helping others. He finds great satisfaction in helping people who are newly disabled, as well as those who have been disabled for years. I love seeing his eyes light up as he offers insight, encouragement, and guidance to everyone he helps.
My brother’s disability does not hold him back from being productive and from fully enjoying his life. In addition to his rehab and nonprofit work, John restores classic cars. The restoration ranges from a full frame-off (total disassemble of the entire car) to simple repairs. These cars are then sold to people all over the world. This sideline helps my brother to appreciate his arms and hands, the parts of his body that he can still use. He also does mechanic work, free of charge, for people who are disabled. All of his work helps his mind by keeping him busy and productive.
For sheer enjoyment, John plays pool with the American Pool Player Association. This is a regular national league, not the wheelchair league. John simply does not let his wheelchair stand in his way of living life fully and being a bright light in this world. He is an inspiration to me and to everyone who knows him.