Behind every picture…

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on June 07, 2016 # PFSP

With the launch of our new site, most of you have noticed the photo on our homepage with Reeve employee Bill Cawley, Manager of the Peer & Family Support Program (PFSP) and his daughter Mary-Kate. However, behind this photo tells the story of one person’s determination to do everything he was told he wouldn’t be able to do after sustaining a spinal cord injury.

Bill was injured in 1992, when he hit his neck on a railing after diving into the bay off a dock down at the Jersey Shore. The accident left Bill a C6-C7 quad with limited use of his hands. However, the ever resilient person that he was and still is today, refused to let this injury stop his future plans. Even after the doctor’s explained his condition and next steps for recovery, Bill decided that no matter what, he would be the same person professionally, and personally.

“[The doctors] told me that I would need a power wheelchair and I would need someone’s help to dress and feed me because I wouldn’t have much use of my arms and hands. I remember thinking I can deal with this chair, but I got to be independent,” he explained. “I was not going to say I can’t do anything until I try it. I was going to move on with my life. I had a good future ahead of me, and I was not going to give that up. I was really lucky that the company that I was working at told me they would have a position open for me once I recovered. I told them give me a year, and I’ll be back.”

In 1992 Bill found his way to the Reeve Foundation, wanting to raise money for the Foundation’s mission, and give back so people could have the same opportunities he had after his injury. Over the next few years, Bill raised close to $750,000 towards research for cures. Bill later began his career at the Reeve Foundation in 2009, helping start the PFSP from scratch in 2011.

“There was nothing in the spinal cord community that was a national program, so the idea of starting totally from scratch was the biggest challenge. What did we want to be? What type of training and curriculum do we want to do? It was like a start up.” Now, six years later, the Peer Family & Support Program has helped over 4,300 peers in 40 states.

During all of this, Bill also became a loving father to four children, two boys and two girls. Even while living with a higher level injury and limited dexterity, Bill has made sure to be as active as possible in his children’s lives.

“My challenges are probably different than someone who is a paraplegic who has full use of their hands. I think the biggest thing was the fear and frustration and trying to figure out how to contribute, especially with my limited hand function,” Bill said. “I can’t get up in the middle of the night and help with a crying baby. I can’t help tie their shoes, or zipper up their snow jackets, but I figured it out by doing it my own way. It’s all about making it your own.”

Bill did not let these moments of frustrations and challenges stop him from being a mentoring figure for his children, from teaching them how to jump off a step or to riding a bike.

“My biggest concern was my kids feeling like I’m not going to be around as much because I’m in a wheelchair or I won’t be as active as another dad who isn’t living with paralysis, but I’m around a lot, and I've figured out a lot,” he said. “You end up valuing certain things that you normally wouldn’t if you weren’t paralyzed. I remember the first time when I snuck all the kids out of the house to get ice cream, while my wife was taking a nap, or the first time my daughter and I got a soda together just to talk. It may not seem like a big deal, but I appreciate these moments. “

Learn more about our Peer & Family Support Program

Read Bill’s latest blog on our discussion board