​Peer & Family Support Spotlight: Larry Lake

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on November 29, 2021 # Peer & Family Support Program, Peer Spotlight

Larry and his son Justin on a jetty at a beach. Justin is using a wheelchair.Larry and Linda Lake had just spoken with their son, Justin, a couple of hours before a second call came in.

“It was the call that everyone dreads,” says Larry.

In 2012, Justin was in a small village on the island of Tobago off the coast of South America for a deep-sea diving trip with friends. When a drunk driver hit the car he was riding in, the 32-year-old sustained a C5-C7 incomplete spinal cord injury.

“Justin had completed his advanced EMT training and was halfway through paramedics training. Luckily, he remained conscious because he had to instruct the local emergency responders on how to attach a cervical collar before removing him from the car,” says Larry. “The next couple hours set off a crazy frenzy to get our son home.”

Through Justin’s friends in Trinidad, the Lakes were able to arrange for a military helicopter to transport Justin to the nearby larger island where he had an initial surgery into the early hours of the next day. From there, the Lake’s daughter-in-law, who is in the medical field, was able to coordinate an ICU jet to fly Justin to Atlanta.

After a month at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital with extensive surgery, Justin was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for two months of rehabilitation. While Justin was at Shepherd, Larry participated in caregiver support groups. He found the experience of meeting and talking with others so helpful that he decided to become a peer mentor.

“Now when someone calls me for support, I remember what it was like in those early days when Justin’s injury was new and overwhelming, and I know enough to understand people just need someone who will listen,” says Larry, a certified mentor with the Reeve Foundation’s Peer & Family Support Program.

Larry has connected with several other fathers who are caregivers. One dad Larry spoke with has an injured son about the same age as Justin and was very grateful to connect with someone who can relate to what he is going through.

“I told him as a parent and caregiver, you can’t ever give up hope,” says Larry. “You always need to have hope and make sure you always give that hope to your son.”

Larry’s top focus when he speaks with peers is to never assume anything. “I don’t preach to them or tell them what to do. I don’t assume they are ok, or not ok,” says Larry.

Although he recognizes that every injury is different, Larry also believes that there are many commonalities to the experience and connecting with others can help.

“Whatever you are going through, you are not alone, and you are not unique,” says Larry. “There is so much support and technology today to improve the life of both the caregiver and the injured.”

This year, Justin moved into a 700-square-foot house he designed and had built on his twin brother’s property which is just a couple minutes down the road from Larry and Linda’s home. His house is fully accessible with a roll-in bathroom, an induction stove, and an automatic dog door for his pup Lincoln.

Larry is grateful that Justin has his own space. While so much has changed since Justin’s injury, Larry is thankful for how much Justin has accomplished and where they are as a family with the opportunity to help others find a good place too. For those considering reaching out to a peer mentor, Larry says, “give it a try.”

“You might find someone has a word or a resource or an experience that can make a difference in your life,” says Larry. “Yes, it’s a different life, but it can be a great life!”

He believes the what-ifs and possibilities are still there, and by keeping hope, you can find a way through anything.

“The long-run will take care of itself. We only have control over what happens right now and how we can make each day better for ourselves and our loved ones,” says Larry. “You never know what you might learn when talking with others and how it could change your daily life for the better.”

You can request a Peer & Family Support Program mentor here.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.