Making a Difference: Pat Durkin
In August, 2009, while body surfing I was flipped over by an unusual wave into a wall of sand leaving me a C3/4 quadriplegic. I will never forget when I was told that I would be dependent on a ventilator for the rest of my life and I would most likely never breathe on my own again. However, with the help and support of government policy makers and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, I can now breathe on my own for most of the day. I learned firsthand the power of advocacy and how much of an impact I could have as an individual.
After my accident I quickly discovered that my almost 30 years of Federal employee benefits were being severely limited and in some cases denied. I was an excellent candidate for the Diaphragmatic Pacing System (DPS), a minimally invasive device implanted that allows a person to be weaned from a vent for long periods of time.
While I was at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta the doctors recommended the DPS procedure but it was denied by my insurance. I was fortunate to have a staunch advocate and supporter in my fiancée Sue. Sue reached out to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and together we worked through the whole insurance appeal process, but in the end the procedure was once again denied. Throughout the whole process, the entire staff at the Foundation was constantly reassuring us that we would find a way for me to get what I needed.
When we thought we had nowhere else to turn, Sue reached out to Congressman Chris Van Hollen's office. We were introduced to Char, who handled the Congressman's Health Care issues. I shared my story and asked for the Congressman's help. The office was immediately determined to help. It was a long process filled with twists, turns, ups and downs. The DPS procedure was finally approved as well as an extended stay at Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital.
I am now breathing on my own for most of the day thanks to Representative Van Hollen and his staff and the Reeve Foundation. I enjoy living in my own home with my dog, being close to my friends and family and spending my time at baseball, basketball and hockey games. I have three grandchildren who are the joy of my life and I am thankful for every second I spend with them.
In late May 2011, Sue and I were able to meet with Congressman Chris Van Hollen, members of his staff and the team of wonderful people who helped along the way. The Congressman was so influential in my appeal to have the DPS and extended stay, I wanted to thank him personally.
The Congressman was very easy to speak with and very interested in hearing my story as well as my concern for the number of serious injuries like mine that may be a result of the particular way the beach reclamation was done. I was able to talk with him about the beneficial programs and resources provided by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center and how the Foundation is working to help families like mine that experience life changing events resulting in paralysis.
One of many things I am proud of is the time I now spend talking with young men at Wounded Warriors at National Military Medical Center in Bethesda who have lost their legs in combat. My message to them is that life doesn't stop after your accident. Envision the 10,000 things you could do with your life before your accident and maybe now you can only do 6,000 of them. Focus on the 6,000 and not the 4,000. We all have the potential to live amazing lives.
At times, with all that is happening we feel that our voices go unheard. I am here to tell you that your voices are being heard and your stories do matter. My life changed because I reached out and shared my story. And then, with nothing to gain - caring, influential people came to the plate to improve the quality of life of one person. I am forever impacted by the power of advocacy. We are our own best advocates and we have such powerful stories to tell. By speaking out and sharing our stories we can influence decision makers and truly impact change in our daily lives and for our entire community.