A Fork in the Road | From Terrifying to Triumphant

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Maui Fires - Plan B

    Yesterday marked my 41st wedding anniversary. This was the first time my wife and I visited the beach since my harrowing accident on August 13, 2023. We had just come from our son's wedding, overjoyed and brimming with love. We were visiting Maui for the first time to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Shortly upon arriving, Maui was thrust into massive fires, and the local authorities asked all visitors to leave. We quickly changed our flight reservations and checked out of our cottage (far from the fires), having the entire day available since our flight didn't leave until the evening. We found ourselves on a beautiful beach, and I decided to enjoy the last of the beautiful Maui ocean waters, stepped in, and proceeded to do what I've always done in the ocean— body surfing.

    I've always found some my happiest moments in the ocean, a tradition that stretches back to my childhood. I vividly remember riding on my father’s back, feeling the thrill of the surf, and later, the joy of carrying my own children in the same way. The ocean has always been my sanctuary, my place of joy and remembrance.

after accident in maui

My Harrowing Encounter with Big Daddy

    While enjoying the powerful ocean waves, I decided to take on a particularly massive wave, known affectionately as "Big Daddy," which stood around 10 feet high. As I launched into the wave, the undertow was stronger than I anticipated, pulling me under violently. My face and forehead brutally met the ocean floor, and the impact was fierce, causing a sharp, crushing sound in my neck and immediate paralysis in my arms—a terrifying experience known as a "stinger."

    In that crucial moment, I was launched into the air and somehow had the presence of mind to scream for help before being submerged again. My wife, alongside two young men nearby, quickly sprang into action. These quick-thinking individuals managed to pull me from the grip of the ocean, potentially saving my life. I lay on the beach, pain surging through my body, bleeding and barely able to breathe, grimly realizing how close I had come to drowning.

The Gripping Journey from Crushing Trauma to Spinal Injury

    Following the accident, I underwent a rudimentary and painful cleanup process with the help of my wife and the minimal facilities of a local beach. The challenge was intensified by my severe injuries and the urgency to catch a flight home, all while ensuring I stayed awake to prevent further complications.

    A neurological assessment post-accident miraculously showed no concussion or other brain damage, though I wasn't out of the woods yet. I was told that I was very lucky to be alive and without permanent injuries. Weeks later, a troubling new symptom appeared—sudden numbness in my arms triggered by looking down. An MRI revealed multiple herniated discs in my neck, prompting an orthopedic surgeon to recommend spinal fusion. Scared out of my wits and determined to avoid surgery, I explored all of my options including physical therapy.

after accident in maui

Choosing the Fork in the Road

    Yogi Berra, the famed baseball player, once quipped, "When you see the fork in the road, take it." I never quite grasped the meaning behind this, but I later discovered it was actually practical advice for reaching his house—both paths at the fork led to the same place.

    I'm now at the fork in the road, which path do I take - spinal fusion of my neck or an alternative direction? Historically, I've preferred to start with the least invasive methods, reserving surgery as a last resort. In the past, this strategy has served me well, even when surgery was strongly advised. This situation, however, felt more daunting. My doctors are deeply worried about the "bilateral" nature of my spinal injury, using terms like paralysis, permanent damage, and constant pain, which terrified me.

    I began by seeking an opinion from a Physical Therapist, hoping for encouraging news. After a thorough hour-long evaluation, however, he expressed serious concern about the "bilateral" nature of my injury and advised me to consult with the Orthopedic Surgeon again—hardly the news I hoped for. Undeterred, I sought a second opinion from another Physical Therapist, eager to find someone open to addressing my condition non-surgically. Just as I was beginning to consider spinal fusion as my likely option, I finally received some hopeful news.

A Ray of Sunshine

    I found an excellent physical therapist, Dr. Nicholas (Nick) Pahl from Cora Physical Therapy, who carefully evaluated my situation. His evaluation was dramatically different and to my amazement indicated that my "bilateral" issue was not stemming from my neck but from my upper back. He felt that the herniated discs in my neck were from an old injury and not causing the numbness in my arms. He then and crafted a targeted rehabilitation program to address the symptoms that I was experiencing. After two rigorous months of therapy and daily exercises, my symptoms completely disappeared! Nick and I then designed a maintenance program to strengthen my neck and back, incorporating resistance exercises to further enhance my recovery.

    After completing physical therapy, I enhanced my home gym with affordable new additions such as resistance bands, therapy bands, extra dumbbells, and a new yoga mat. I incorporated these tools into my daily workout regimen, focusing on rebuilding strength in the areas weakened by my injuries. Over the next 3 months I gradually increased the weights and resistance, incorporating targeted exercises for my injury sites as well as full-body workouts.

Triumph: Defying Age & Injury to Peak Fitness

    Now, nine months after the accident, not only am I free from pain, but I am also stronger and more flexible than ever before. I continue to push myself in my workouts, adding more resistance and challenges, walking, biking, and playing tennis with unprecedented vigor. I'll soon hit the beach and take on the waves once more.

    This journey has underscored the incredible power of resilience and the critical importance of exploring every available recovery option, regardless of age. At 71, when confronted with a pivotal decision, I chose an unconventional path—eschewing surgery for an intensive physical therapy regimen. This choice not only facilitated my recovery but also catalyzed a transformation, making me stronger than ever before. It stands as a powerful testament to what can be achieved through determination and a proactive approach to challenges.

Power On - Make each day count!


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