After being bound to a wheelchair for 22 years, Joel is taking his first steps to get out of it.
In July of 1991, Joel was riding his motorcycle over to a friend’s house when a car struck him. He was just two blocks away from his destination on a suburban side street.
“The impact was so forceful that I tore my aorta, which is the main valve coming off of your heart,” Joel said. “I also punctured my colon; it was pierced by the handle bars. I was bleeding and dying internally.”
Joel recalls going in and out of consciousness as the paramedics rushed to get him into the ambulance and to the hospital for emergency surgery to save his life.
“I had eight or nine surgeons that worked on me, and I had a two to three percent chance to live,” Joel said. “When I woke up from surgery, I had a colostomy bag; a third of my colon was gone.”
The incident left Joel paralyzed from the waist down; he was 19-years-old at the time.
“The lack of blood to my spinal cord caused my paralyses; my doctor told me that I would never walk again” Joel said.
“Two years after the surgery, my colon healed and I was able to get rid of the colostomy bag,” Joel said.
This was a relief for Joel, and a sign that his body was finally healing.
“I am a T10 incomplete paraplegic,” Joel said. “So after a while, after the accident, I could get up and stand for short periods of time with the help of a walker.
Since his paralysis is considered “incomplete,” Joel can detect some feeling and sensation in the upper part of his legs.
“As you move up my quads (thighs), I can feel more the closer you get to my waist,” Joel said. “At my waist my feeling is 100 percent. I’m lucky that the damage happened so low on my spinal cord; as you move higher up it causes more paralysis, and affects more limbs.”
What Joel is referring to, when he says “T10,” is the location of the injury along his spine. It is the section of the spinal cord that is located at the tenth vertebrae of his thoracic spine, which is roughly in the area of his waistline or belly button.
Joel became more active, and found a love for skiing when he was introduced to an organization that sponsored paraplegics in order to help them with the cost of equipment, transportation and lift tickets.
As he got older, however, his responsibilities and priorities changed. Joel was no longer skiing and over the course of several years he gained a considerable amount of weight.
“I went to the doctor one day and found out that my cholesterol and blood pressure were high,” Joel said. “I was 36 years old at the time. I was still a young man, and I was too young to have these issues.”
It was time to make a change…
“I made a huge diet change,” Joel said. “I stopped eating red meat, which the doctors always said I should do anyways because of my colon, and I just ate fish, chicken, fruits, vegetables and salads. Oh, and I also cut out drinking beer (laughs). That’s when I joined LA Fitness, too. I joined because it was close to my house and it had a pool. I wanted to start swimming for exercise.”
Joel’s determination paid off, and his results happened faster than he had even hoped.
“Within a month I started losing weight,” Joel said. “After five months I ended up losing 50 pounds.”
After months of committing to a new healthy lifestyle, not only did Joel lose weight, but his cholesterol and blood pressure dropped to healthy levels as well.
It has been a few years now since Joel initially began swimming for exercising, changed his diet and lost weight.
“After I lost the weight and dropped my blood pressure and cholesterol I thought to myself ‘I wonder what else I can do if I keep exercising…I wonder how far I can go?’” Joel said.
How far he takes it, and what he accomplishes next is nothing short of amazing. BUT, you will have to come back to read about that in the next segment of Joel’s REAL STORY.
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