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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Finding Hope

Rick, Trish and son Nick at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Rick, Trish and son Nick at the Indianapolis Zoo.

By: Christy Mercer

Name: Rick Jakupco
Injury: injured C-3 vertebrae
Mechanism of injury: car accident
Date of injury: July 2002

Rick Jakupco and his family were on a vacation to Wisconsin in July 2002 when they got in a car accident that would change Rick's life forever. A driver in the opposite lane fell asleep at the wheel and crossed into Rick's lane, hitting his car and sending it spiraling out of control. Rick ended up with a C-3 vertebrae injury, which rendered him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Slow start
"I was completely out of it for a while after the accident," says Rick, "I don't remember much of the first four or five months." What Rick did remember was a feeling of waiting until it was over. He says at first he just felt that he was in a waiting pattern until he could walk again; until he could get out and play golf again. "It took me a while to realize that it wasn't going to happen. When I accepted that I probably wasn't going to be able to walk, I moved on to just wanting to use my hands again."

Rick in his kitchen in his standing frame.

Rick in his kitchen in his standing frame.

Overall, Rick spent about nine months in treatment at various hospitals. He began in northern Indiana at a small hospital near the site of his accident, until he could be transferred to a larger facility in Indianapolis. After going to a couple of different hospital facilities in Indianapolis, his medical staff made plans to transfer him to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado—a facility that specializes in rehabilitation for people with spinal cord and brain injuries.

The trip to Colorado started out smoothly, but hit a snag part way there. Mid-flight in the air ambulance helicopter, Rick suddenly stopped breathing! The helicopter made a quick turn back to the hospital in Indianapolis so he could become stabilized again. Once he was stabilized, Rick was once-again loaded into the helicopter, and this time made it safely to Craig Hospital without incident.

During his seven months at Craig, Rick underwent various surgeries and physical therapy sessions. He says he had so many surgeries he doesn't remember all of them, but he did remember having kidney stones taken out, as well as having an operation on his vocal cords. "I couldn't speak because there was a bone wedged in between my vocal cords, causing one of them to be paralyzed. The doctors had to remove the bone, and now I can speak, but only using one of the cords," Rick says.

Lost, then found
Rick and his wife, Trish, turned to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation's Paralysis Resource Center for help when they initially found out Rick was paralyzed. They were lost, didn't know much about spinal cord injuries, and had no clue how to handle this new situation; all they knew was that Christopher Reeve had a spinal cord injury, and founded an organization that helped people with similar injuries.

The resource center helped Rick and Trish with information about the injury, as well as gave them advice about where to go for surgeries and therapy. "Before getting help from the Foundation, many of the initial doctors we spoke with told us that we didn't have much of a chance; that I would have to go into a nursing home," Rick remembers. "When we turned to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, they really helped us with suggestions about where to seek treatment and what to do; we were getting a lot of bad advice before that."

Rick, his sister Margie, and Danica Patrick (Indy 500 driver).

Rick, his sister Margie, and Danica Patrick (Indy car driver).

Helping others
Today, Rick plans to keep helping those who have been or are in a similar situation as he is, and would like to be involved in helping with further research efforts about spinal cord injuries. He lives at home with his wife and sons (ages 12 and 14), and is happy that he can still participate in their lives. "Although it takes a lot of effort," Rick says, "I am still able to attend my family's events and help out when I can." Trish currently helps with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation's online community as a moderator for people who are seeking advice about spinal cord injuries.

Rick says he hasn't given up on the hope he has of being able to use his hands again, and for now is happy that he can at least still be a part of his family and the community of others who have spinal cord injuries.

Get more information on CaregivingThe Impact of Paralysis and Living a Healthy Life.

Tell us your story
Telling your story is one way to let anyone touched by paralysis know that they are not alone. We've created a place where you can share your journey for your benefit, and the benefit of others. Your story matters. Share it.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Caregivers PCAs Respite (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Rehabilitation (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Rehabilitation - Choosing facility (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Mindfullness (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on New Injury Top 10 Questions (PDF)

American Academy of Physical Medicine and RehabilitationAs the premier medical society for the specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation, AAPM&R is the only organization exclusively serving the needs of practicing PM&R physicians. With more than 7,500 members, the Academy represents more than 87 percent of US physiatrists and international colleagues from 37 countries.

American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)Main membership organization for the PT profession, furthering the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of movement dysfunctions.

American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA)ATRA is the largest, national membership organization representing the interests and need of recreational therapists. Recreational therapists are health care providers using recreational therapy interventions for improved functioning of individuals with illness or disabling conditions.

American Speech-Language-Hearing AssociationASHA is the professional association for audiologists, speech-language pathologists, as well as speech, language and hearing scientists.

The American Congress of RehabilitationServes people with disabling conditions by promoting rehabilitation research and the transfer of technology.

Association of Rehabilitation NursesPromotes and accredits rehab nurses and promotes the philosophy of care of the nursing professional.

American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)Advances the field of occupational therapy through standard-setting, advocacy, education, and research.

CaringRoad.comCaringRoad.com is dedicated to helping family caregivers obtain information, locate services and find support so they can make informed decisions about the care of their loved ones. An online community of family caregivers.

Caregiver.comOffers a directory of support groups for caregivers.

The Centre for Ambulatory Rehabilitation Research and Education (CARRE)Based in Alberta, Canada, CARRE is a research translational facility that examines various treatments for walking after spinal cord injury.

The Caregiver InitiativeA project of the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products Company to help family caregivers provide care to their loved ones and reduce their own stress. Includes information on caregiver needs, and training materials for family caregivers.

Family Caregiver AllianceCaregiver Media Group is a leading provider of information, support and guidance for family and professional caregivers.

Family Caregiving: It's Not All Up to YouNFCA and the National Alliance for Caregiving launched a public education campaign to give information and support to caregivers.

FacingDisability.comFacing Disability is a web resource with more than 1,000 videos drawn from interviews of people with spinal cord injuries, their families, caregivers and experts. I know that this is a lot to ask, but we'd be so grateful for your help. I'm looking forward to discussing this link with you, and to answering any questions you may have.

Model Systems Centers for Spinal Cord InjuryA federally funded program of 14 specialty medical and/or rehabilitation centers across the US. The SCI Care System collects and submits acute, rehabilitation and follow-up (annual, long-term post-discharge) data on SCI patients who received care in the these centers following injury.

National Family Caregiver Association (NFCA)The National Family Caregivers Association educates, supports, empowers and speaks up for the more than 65 million Americans who care for loved ones with a chronic illness or disability or the frailties of old age. NFCA reaches across the boundaries of diagnoses, relationships and life stages to help transform family caregivers' lives by removing barriers to health and well being.

National Rehabilitation Association (NRA)Not long after Congress passed the National Rehabilitation Act of 1920, the National Rehabilitation Association (NRA) began its commitment to persons with disabilities. As the oldest and strongest advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, NRA's mission is to provide advocacy, awareness and career advancement for professionals in the fields of rehabilitation. Their members include rehab counselors, physical, speech and occupational therapists, job trainers, consultants, independent living instructors and other professionals involved in the advocacy of programs and services for people with disabilities.

National Alliance for CaregivingThe Alliance was created to conduct research, do policy analysis, develop national programs, increase public awareness of family care giving issues, work to strengthen state and local care giving coalitions, and represent the US care giving community internationally.

Red Cross Family Caregiving ResourcesInformation for caregivers.

Spinal Cord Injury CaregiversYahoo Internet Forum is a place to share information and to support other caregivers who are caring for people with SCI.

Well Spouse AssociationA national, not for profit membership organization that gives support to wives, husbands, and partners of the chronically ill and/or disabled. Through information and support groups, the organization address issues common to family caregivers: anger, guilt, fear, isolation, grief, and financial threat.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.