Dear Neil, Cole, Fabiola, Julia, Paul, Tyler, Dakota, Amber, Jessica K., Lukesh, Barack, Angelina, Ava, Matthew, Jessica W., Samantha, Sujvalita, Benjamin, Arshiyah, and Ms. Conceison,
My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I just got back from visiting my parents in Florida. I want to thank you for your letter. It's always fun to hear from students that learn about my story. Let me answer a few of your questions.
-How did it feel being on the ice when my accident happened?
It was the most surreal, awkward, weird moment of my life. It was strange lying on the ice, but not being able to feel the cold beneath me. It was also strange laying face down against the ice and not being able to lift my head up, not to mention move my arms or legs. It was like somebody was holding my head down and I couldn't do anything about it. Right away I knew I was paralyzed, which made me very sad, but I never cried or freaked out at all. In fact I was quite calm throughout the entire process of the medical staff getting me off the ice and into the ambulance.
-Do I still keep in touch with some of my friends from BU?
When I went back to BU after my accident, it was a very difficult time for me. Truthfully I didn't make many friends. I had some good acquaintances that I spent some time with, but I didn't have any close friends. Dan Ronan, one of my teammates and roommate before my injury, definitely tried to help me out and was there when I needed him. Chris Drury, who was one of my linemates the night of my injury and later went on to play in the NHL and the Olympics, was also pretty good to me. The truth was I wasn't very comfortable in my own skin and being paralyzed. It took me over five years to find my confidence and understand my life as a quadriplegic.
-How did this accident change my life mentally?
It made me realize that I'm a much stronger person than I thought I was. Every aspect of my day, and every interaction I have with the people around me, is very different from what it was before my accident. I'm proud of what I've accomplished and I am incredibly grateful for the support I've received from my family, friends, and strangers alike. At the same time I'm not as excited about life as I used to be. It was a lot more fun being a star athlete and working towards my goals. I like to say for the first 20 years of my life I had a "passion" to be the best that I could as hockey player, now I have a "purpose" to be the best as I can as a person and advocate for people with paralysis.
-How much of an effect did this accident have on me in a good way?
Since my accident, I've met amazing people and traveled to great places around the country. In some ways it has strengthened my relationship with my family and friends. As complicated as my day-to-day life is as far as getting bathed and dressed and other accessibility issues, what is important to me has become very clear. In fact even though I'm paralyzed, I often look around at my peers and realize I'm living a more satisfying life than many of them, even though they are able-bodied. A lot of this goes back to my 10 rules of life. My rules regarding friends, family, pride, love, respect, and not taking things for granted, are still incredibly important to me. In fact my life is saturated with these values and how they touched my life. I have so much love for the people that are important to me, and I feel that love reciprocated back to me. My work with the TRF is very fulfilling, and I'm proud of the people we've helped and look forward to the research we have been funding paying off, so that we can end paralysis as we know it.
-Did I consider myself a positive person before my accident?
Absolutely, I have always been an optimist. It has become clear to me that next to my family and friends, that my optimism is probably my most valuable assets. Life is so much easier, and karma flows more positively, when you have that optimistic attitude. I feel bad for people that struggle to find the positives in life, and actually enjoy being pessimists.
Thanks for your questions, they were great.