When Minh Do slipped and fell on a trail in Albania, he knew right away that something life-changing had happened. The 39-year-old was near his intended turnaround point on a 16-hour round-trip solo hike in Theth National Park when he spontaneously decided to take a steep and slippery route off the main trail.Minh Do standing with walker

“I slipped and fell down a cliff, landing on jagged rocks. When I tried to get back on my feet, I had a shooting pain in my left hip, and I couldn’t move my left leg. I was really frightened,” says Do. “It was the tail end of the hiking season, and I wasn’t optimistic about being found where I fell. My cellphone had no service, and I knew from the get-go that I was on my own.”

Do recognized that his only chance was to get himself down the steep side slope and back to the main trail, but first, he tried to move toward where he had dropped his water and other minimal supplies. The rugged and rocky terrain made the undertaking very difficult.

“I literally crawled, using the strength of my upper body to get myself down the mountain, going only a couple of feet every few minutes,” says Do. “I told myself just keep moving.”

Although Do could see the main trail from where he fell, it took him more than six hours to get to his backpack just a little way down the side trail. By then, it was dusk, and as the temperatures dipped into the 40s, Do worried about hypothermia since he was only wearing a t-shirt.

“Throughout the night, I didn’t stop. I wanted to get to the main trail as soon as possible because I knew there would be a greater likelihood of activity in the morning,” says Do. “Ultimately, the short side trail that only took me a half-hour to hike up took me 21 hours to get down.”

By mid-morning, Do had managed to get himself about 200 yards from the main trail when he saw a young shepherd ride by on a donkey. Do yelled to get his attention, and the boy got help. At the local hospital, Do learned that he needed immediate surgery on his shattered T12 vertebrae.

Although he was relieved when his younger sister arrived a couple of days later, he continued to feel completely overwhelmed by his situation. That was when a friend suggested he contact the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

“I had no idea what to do, and I was looking for any sort of help. Maria answered all my questions, and she was a great source of information and advice about spinal cord injuries,” says Do of Reeve Foundation Associate Information Specialist Maria Fonseca. “Maria was so friendly and just knowing that there was someone who was so knowledgeable that I could talk to made a huge difference.”

Fonseca helped him plan his path forward, including researching travel, hospital, and treatment options back in the States and how to apply for Medicaid. Minh Do in hospital bed

“I’m so thankful there is an incredible resource out there like the Reeve Foundation,” says Do. “I’m not sure what kind of decisions I would have made without Maria’s help. In a situation like mine, where the clock is ticking, I was so grateful to have her looking into the options for me. It was one less thing I needed to worry about.”

Three weeks after his accident, Do returned to the U.S. and went straight to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He was disheartened to learn he needed another surgery to remove a large, loose bone fragment (which was not removed during the surgery in Albania) because it was compressing his spinal cord, thus causing continuous nerve damage.

“I have run ten marathons, and this was by far the biggest challenge of my life,” says Do. “Now every day feels like the day after a marathon. You are so worn out, but you need to push through.”

Because Do had a tough time with the set back after his second surgery, Fonseca connected him with the Reeve Foundation’s Peer & Family Support Program so that he could be matched with a mentor.

“I am so inspired by all the people I have met through the Reeve Foundation,” says Do. “This experience has shed new light on the world of spinal cord injuries that I never knew existed. I have so much respect for people who have experienced this type of trauma and remain so optimistic. It is humbling and amazing.”

Now, almost nine months after his October 2019 accident, Do says he feels like he’s back to 60% of normal. Through daily strengthening and stretching exercises, he has regained some sensation and can walk at close to a normal pace.

“I’m so thankful that the Reeve Foundation exists. I had so much stress and anxiety, and I will be forever grateful to Maria for guiding me through the whole process,” says Do. “When I get to a more physically and mentally stable place, I fully intend to give back and volunteer to help others the way Maria has helped me.”