Most of us get up every morning, get dressed and expect we’ll come home at the end of the day and do pretty much what we did last night.
But life can shift dramatically — literally in the blink of an eye — and change all that as it did for Joel Vazquez when the pickup he was driving to a friend’s place during a rainstorm hydroplaned and rolled, breaking his back and leaving him paralyzed from the ribcage down.
That was in June 2014 and as Dr. Joe Priest — director of the Laboratory for Wellness and Motor Behavior [LWMB] at Tarleton State University says — “If there was anything ‘good’ about his injury, it’s that it was incomplete.”
That means that while his back was broken, his spinal cord was intact.
“Even then, you don’t know if the person who suffered the injury will ever walk again, but it’s certainly much better than a complete injury with nerve damage or a severing of the spinal cord.”
As Joel explains, “My friend pulled me out of the pickup. It was upside down and it was raining and I couldn’t move my legs. The next thing I remember, I was waking up in the hospital and nobody knew if I would ever walk again.
“I was really depressed of course, but then I just decided, ‘You’ve got to take this one day at a time,’ so that’s what I did then and that’s what I do now. And it’s working,” Vazquez says.
Ashley Newsome, business manager of Anytime Fitness where Joel works on his rehab in addition to his work at LWMB says, “Joel has the best attitude; he plans on being a physical therapist and using his own experience to help other people in their recovery. He’ll be great at it, too. He’s humble and dedicated and he’s an inspiration to everyone here, including me. His work ethic is really amazing.”
Dr. Priest, who was at Anytime Fitness when the E-T interviewed Vazquez, said as Joel was doing his leg presses — yes, leg presses — “Look at that! He couldn’t even move a toe when he was first injured; the signals just stopped at the point of injury.
“But now Joel is getting out of his wheelchair and walking with a walker. All his hard work is paying off and who knows how far back he can come? He’s such a dedicated, hard worker. I’m a big believer that he can come back all the way.”
Priest continued, “Most of the people who come to the Laboratory are depressed and don’t think they can ever be independent again. But we work very hard to change that perception. It’s incredible and folks like Ashley, the staff here at Anytime Fitness and the students who work at the Lab at TSU are the reason it all works.”
Keep it up, Joel. The E-T will be there to take a shot of you crossing the finish line when you run that first 10K race.
By the way, kudos to Ashley Newsome for bringing Joel’s story to the E-T.