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Life After SCI: Member Spotlight – Chris Wynn

United Spinal Association of Northeast Ohio > BLOG > Connections Newsletter Article > Life After SCI: Member Spotlight – Chris Wynn

This past January was the 28th anniversary of my injury. It’s hard to believe that I’ve spent more than half my life in a wheelchair, though I still remember the day as if it were yesterday! There are some years that go by and I completely forget the date until it’s passed. But during this pandemic, it’s left me with plenty of time to think and reflect on my life. January, 1993, a beautiful day at the beach with friends changed my life forever!

I was stationed in Hawaii during my time in the Air Force. While spending time at the beach, I had broken my neck doing front flips into the ocean. I landed on my head instead of my feet, which shattered my fourth cervical and pulled my spinal cord almost 90 degrees. Fortunately, I floated face up, but my friends couldn’t hear me yelling until the waves washed me closer to

shore. One and 1⁄2 hours I laid on the sands of the beach, in and out of shock, before the ambulance arrived. I knew I was paralyzed, but hoped it was just temporary.

So there I was, bed-bound, intubated and paralyzed from the shoulders down. “Why me?” I thought, I was appreciative of life and thankful for what God had given me in 22 short years of life. It’s hard to come to terms with such a life-changing event. I lost 100 percent of my independence and bodily functions in a split second. But the sooner you learn to accept it, the sooner you can move on to a path of some sort of recovery. So, this is my journey.

During my 10-month stint in the VA, I was offered the opportunity to participate in a study. It involved the implantation of electrodes to restore hand function, referred to as functional electrical stimulation or FES. In January 1995, I had surgery to implant a small device under my left pectoral muscle. Branching off this are wires with electrodes attached at the ends. Routed under the armpit and down the arm, electrodes stimulate different nerves and muscles that control the hand. I was the 10th in the state of Ohio and the 23rd in the world to receive this technology; without it, I’m unable to grip anything on my own. It’s hard to explain how restoring this little bit of function has made such a huge difference in my life. Freedom from reliance on prosthetic devices has given me a sense of normalcy and leaves me less reliant on others.

After discharge from the VA, I moved in with my parents. Being back at home was a constant reminder of my pre-injury life and all the memories of my upbringing. That was just one of many things that made it difficult adjusting to my injury. Gone were the days of spontaneity; now every day begins with a routine.

Wake up in the morning, take pills, empty my bladder (via intermittent catheterization, which needs to be done every 4 to 6 hours), do range of motion on my legs, (a series of stretches to prevent muscle contractures and reduce spasticity), get washed up, dressed and in my chair. As a result of damage to the spinal cord, bowel function is also compromised. As a result, every other day, a bowel routine is performed. This entails the insertion of a rectal suppository that stimulates the colon to produce a bowel movement. As you can probably imagine, this routine, along with the inability to do all the things that I once enjoyed, is a hard pill to swallow. Lucky for me, I’ve got a great support system and a twisted sense of humor, both of which are necessary for dealing with this injury.

When my son started elementary school, I was offered an opportunity to participate in a VA study. It involved returning people with spinal cord injuries back to work. I had an idea to open up a spinal cord rehab facility and gym. With the help of some very special people, I wrote up a business plan that required approval on state and federal levels. It took four years from start to finish, but in September 2011, Buckeye Wellness Center opened its doors. The only facility of

its kind in Ohio; it offers people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities a second chance to reach their therapy goals when insurance stops paying. There’s also accessible gym equipment so people who want to stay in shape can exercise.

I remarried in 2004 to my wonderful wife, Susan! She’s my best friend and strongest advocate. Her love and guidance have helped shape our son into the man he is today. Buckeye Wellness Center wouldn’t exist without her, either.

It’s been over 28 years since that tragic day on the beach. I often wonder what I would’ve done with my life had I not broken my neck. The doctor in Hawaii who did my surgery told my mom I would curse the day he saved my life. I’d actually like to thank him. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, my life would not have been nearly as fulfilling had it not happened.

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