Mentor Spotlight: Joseph Arcidiacono

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on June 25, 2020 # PFSP, Peer Spotlight

Joseph Arcidiacono lives by a simple philosophy.Joe Arcidiacono

“There are no roadblocks, merely obstacles to negotiate,” says Arcidiacono. “That is how I approach every problem I face. There is no quit.”

Arcidiacono has certainly had many opportunities to test his thinking. In March 2012, just eight days before his retirement from the U.S. Navy and a week before his 45th birthday, Arcidiacono sustained a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident on a curvy mountain road.

“I am technically quadriplegic, but I function as a paraplegic,” says Arcidiacono who has a T3 complete injury. “I was so lucky that a nurse was the first person on the scene. I had medical attention within two minutes of the accident.”

But that was where Arcidiacono’s luck may have run out. After several weeks in the hospital and four months in a Veterans Administration (VA) rehabilitation center in Palo Alto, California, Arcidiacono developed a heterotopic ossification which is abnormal bone growth at three times the normal rate in the non-skeletal tissues. Arcidiacono’s hip started to grow around his femur until the leg and hip were completely fused.

“After that I developed a massive spinal syrinx, a cyst along my spinal column from C2 to L2,” says Arcidiacono. “During a surgery intended to drain the cyst, it was decided I needed a T1 to T8 spinal fusion. I got 10 screws, two bars and various other metal pieces.”

Along with these complications, a severe allergic reaction to a medication and a second back surgery that completely removed his T3 vertebrae, Arcidiacono received an additional C5 incomplete diagnosis in 2013.

“Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in rehab and the staff was floored by my positive attitude and resilience,” says Arcidiacono. “The staff would ask me to talk to others who were feeling down and my help seemed to work.”Joe doing archery

A social worker suggested Arcidiacono become a peer mentor, a role he feels comes naturally. In 2018, he became certified as a mentor with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s Peer & Family Support Program.

“I’ve talked with ten people so far from all over the country, two with prior military service,” says Arcidiacono. “I offer my time to listen and advice from my experience to try to help them cope with their new normal.”

Most of all, Arcidiacono’s enduring positive attitude gives them a sense of hope.

“I can often hear the relief from the beginning of the conversation to the end,” says Arcidiacono. “I try to assure them that it’s not as bad as they may think. It makes me feel good to know that I am helping.”

Arcidiacono thinks much of his can-do approach comes from spending a good portion of his 27-year naval career as an airplane mechanic on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean.

“If something breaks out there, you have no choice but to figure out how to fix it,” says Arcidiacono. “Another of my favorite sayings is ‘sometimes it’s your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude.’ I try to share this approach with the people I mentor.”

Arcidiacono’s other advice – stay active. In addition to handcycling and basketball, he loves woodworking and is most recently teaching himself metalwork. He also created a gym area for himself in his home.Joe doing metalwork

“I love to tinker with anything. My mom says I speak machine,” says Arcidiacono. “I say, if I can’t fix it, it’s not broken.”

Arcidiacono finds that just connecting with someone and sharing what he does on a regular basis can encourage others to explore building their own independence.

“I try to talk out different ways they can do things to overcome the challenges they may be facing,” says Arcidiacono. “We may talk out ideas for how to make their house more usable or how to approach a daily activity in a new way. It can be amazing how a simple modification can make a big difference.”

For more information on the Peer & Family Support Program and to request a mentor, please go to https://www.christopherreeve.org/get-support/get-a-peer-mentor.