I can’t believe that just a month ago I met Bob and his wife, Penny, in Minnesota while celebrating 40 years of spinal cord injury research. Bob passed away unexpectedly about a week ago from complications from cellulitis.
As I mentioned in my blog post after my trip, I bought a copy of Bob’s book, A Dive Too Deep, where he described the 14-month journey of his recovery and rehab experience after diving into a lake. He was paralyzed with a spinal cord injury at 24 years old.
As a newlywed of one year, Bob explained how his life changed forever.
“My dive took me deep. I hit the hard, sandy bottom with my head. I heard a thick snap and saw a bright flash of intense white light. I laid there facedown in the water–unable to move, unable to breathe. My mind was racing, but somehow racing in slow motion.”
After he was pulled out of the water and rushed to the hospital, Bob’s neurosurgeon said that he broke his neck and crushed his spinal cord. The doctor added, “You’ll probably never get out of bed. If you do, you’ll never walk and it’s not likely you’ll live much past forty.”
Those chilling words brought a mix of emotions, including fear, anger and frustration. He kept questioning why this happened to him. But, Bob had the love and support from his wife, family and friends along the way.
He received rehabilitation services from the Sister Kenny Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota. Bob worked with physical therapists and occupational therapists to regain strength. He learned to feed himself, drive a power chair and use adaptive equipment allowing him to go back to work.
As he continued to strengthen, he gained a sense of confidence and optimism. He was grateful to prove his neurosurgeon wrong on two points: he did get out of bed, and he lived much past forty years of age.
Bob retired in 2004 after a 43-year career in the electronics field. Over the years, he dedicated his life as a disability advocate and served on many local, state and national disability organizations.
Bob liked to say that he survived in spite of his disability, but he thrived because of his disability.
In the final paragraph of his book, he says, “Now, I ask you to do two things: treat people with disabilities and everyone you know with respect. And one last thing: be sure to check the depth of the water–don’t dive too deep!”