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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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"He Just Sits Down A Lot"

Bill Cawley and his family

Bill Cawley and his family

By: Amy Wilson

Name: Bill Cawley
Injury: C6, C7.
Mechanism of Injury: Diving Accident
Date of Injury: 1992

For Bill Cawley, life did not start or end with the accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. In fact, if you were to ask one of his closest friends how the accident changed him, he would reply, "Cawley has not changed; he just sits down a lot."

Since a 1992 diving accident that had left him paralyzed from the chest down, Cawley would agree that, his life has changed, but he hasn’t.

Life after paralysis
At the age of 42, Cawley is a husband, father, successful businessman and a philanthropist (he works to raise money for the Reeve Foundation). However, at the age of 24, Cawley had no idea that he would eventually become all of these things; all he knew was that he was not going to let his condition stop him from trying to.

Cawley recalls, after getting injured, "I knew it was going to change my life, but I wasn’t for a second going to let it change what I wanted from life." This optimistic point of view is what has allowed Cawley to adjust to life after the accident.

In addition to maintaining a successful career, he was also able to expand the social life that he possessed beforehand. Cawley fondly remembers going to a wedding shortly after becoming paralyzed and being the first person to buy a round of beers.

When his friends asked, "How the did you do that?," he simply replied, "I’ve put the beers in some netting under my chair, don’t worry about it, we’re good."

Family Life
While Cawley’s circumstances may have changed after the accident, one thing that stayed the same was his zest for life. In fact, it was Cawley’s refusal to see himself any differently that led him to meet his wife, Liz.

Even though they both were part of the same group of friends, Cawley was one of the few people who was always willing to go out and do something. After they attended a wedding together they realized that they might have found something special with each other. They married two years later.

Despite the tenacity of his indomitable spirit, Cawley admits to having hardships. He reveals that one of the most difficult aspects of his condition is the way it affects those closest to him, especially his family.

As a father, Cawley says, "I worked really, really hard to make sure they never feel like they missed out on anything. That because their Dad is in a wheelchair they don’t do this, or can’t do that."

His children, however, do not seem to feel that they are missing out on anything. In fact, they seem more concerned that their father might someday be able to walk again. When asked by her father over breakfast one morning, how she would feel if he started walking again, Cawley’s daughter, Liza-Jane, replied, "Well, if you walk, can you still make us our Eggo’s?"

Walking Is No Guarantee
While Cawley’s oldest child may have been most concerned with the fate of her breakfast, when asked how walking again might affect his life, Cawley was ready with a much more insightful answer.

Cawley says, "Walking does not guarantee you a good life. Nothing guarantees you a good life; it’s what you do with it."

Learn More

Learn more on how to live a fun and healthy life through the Paralysis Resource Center’s Living a Healthy Life section. Get more information on fitness, traveling, recreational activities and sports to complement your active lifestyle.

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 Wheelchair and Equipment Donations (PDF)

Assistive Technology (AT) Resources: Proper fit of a wheelchairThe National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN) has compiled a list of various Assistive Technology (AT) resource agencies around the nation, including resources on driver education, independent living, state agencies, mobility equipment and more.

Aquila Wheelchair CushionsThe Aquila Corporation offers a line of alternating pressure wheelchair cushions along with a two-zone static manual inflate cushion. These cushions are designed to meet pressure relief needs thereby helping to prevent pressure sores from developing down the road.

BrunoBruno Independent Living Aids has become known for its: power chairs, scooters, high quality stair lifts and Turning Automotive Seating.

ColoursFor people who like to think outside the box, check out the chairs put out by Colours In Motion.

e.motionA standard manual wheelchair can get extra help with special rims containing small yet powerful motors.

Frog LegsFrog Legs Inc. makes a product that makes mobility a much smoother experience. A flexible hinge allows the castor wheels on wheelchairs to move more easily over bumps and obstacles thereby reducing the impact normally felt by the person seated. Think of them as shock absorbers for your wheelchair.

The Jay CushionSunrise Medical produces a cushion for wheelchairs called The Jay which is filled with a slow-flowing gel. The Jay addresses posture, skin and functional needs.

PermobilPermobil produces chairs ideal for those requiring the flexibility to constantly change positions. Technology and comfort combine to allow for active sitting.

Pride MobilityFor tight and precise control, Pride Mobility Products Corporation makes the very popular Jazzy Power Chairs.

Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago: Wheelchair Seating & PositioningHaving mobility is an important factor in being able to lead a productive and fulfilling life. If an individual is unable to walk, an appropriate mobility base and seating system are imperative to enhance the ability to interact and perform functional skills.

ROHOThe ROHO is a brand of cushion seats designed for protection and comfort. Each cushion is based on a support system of evenly distributed air.

The Spinal Cord Injury Information Network: Wheelchairs & SeatingInformation on seating and positioning.

Spinlife.comOnline durable medical equipment (including wheelchairs and cushions).

SportaidOnline catalog for durable medical equipment.

TiLiteTitanium wheelchairs; lightweight and strong.

UCP Wheels for HumanityA non-profit organization that refurbishes donated wheelchairs and hand fits them to children and adults with disabilities in developing nations.

Wheelchairjunkie.comA resourceful and opinionated website owned and operated by self-described "power chair gonzo" Mark E. Smith, who also designs power chairs for Pride Mobility Products. Says Smith, "WheelchairJunkie.com is about mobility, not manufacturers, so the voices expressed here represent only users."

WheelchairNetA federally funded virtual community for people who have an interest in wheelchair technology.

Wheelchair FoundationOver 100 million of the world's citizens today are deprived of mobility because of warfare, disease, disaster or advanced age. The wheelchairs they need simply to get across the street - or across the room - are out of reach. The Wheelchair Foundation believes that these people deserve the independence and dignity that comes with owning a wheelchair, regardless of their nationality. This is a nonprofit organization leading an international effort to deliver a wheelchair to every man, woman and child in the world who needs one. For those individuals, the Wheelchair Foundation offers freedom, self-reliance, mobility and hope.

Whirlwind Wheelchair InternationalWhirlwind Wheelchair International (WWI) is the communications hub of the Whirlwind Wheelchair Network of independent wheelchair-producing workshops in developing countries. Founded in 1989 as the Wheeled Mobility Center (WMC), WWI's primary mission is 1) to teach wheelchair riders in developing countries to design, build, and repair their own wheelchairs; 2) to enable rider/builders to create businesses for the manufacture and distribution of wheelchairs to others; and 3) to foster the ever-widening Whirlwind Network of rider/builders around the world who exchange ideas for the continuous improvement of wheelchair design.

World Wide Wheelchairs & Used Medical EquipmentScott Dier began this company in July 1998. He wanted to sell a hearing aid on the Internet. Then people started asking about wheelchairs and other medical equipment! Mr. Dier then proceeded to look for equipment around North America and found many items available. World Wide Wheelchairs exploded into a company that was needed throughout the world! They have sent medical equipment and wheelchairs to India, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Jamaica, Canada, England, Brazil and all over the U.S. and the U.S. Military.

Wheelchair AccessoriesClick on this link to see how you can accessorize your chair or scooter and improve matters. Backpacks, cupholders, trays, canopies and umbrellas are just a few examples.

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.