It was April 1974 when I came into this crazy world. I remember a few things here and there that I did when I was 1 or 2 years old, but there’s one day I’ll never forget!
It was only a few days before my 3rd birthday. I was with my parents at Montgomery Ward and I started to feel very weak. At first they thought I was just being a little punk and wanted to be carried, but they soon realized something wasn’t right. I was burning up pretty bad and we went straight to see my pediatrician after hours and got a blood test and checkup. We went home and went to bed.
The following morning the phone rang. My parents were told that they needed to bring me down to Mt Sinai Hospital in NYC… I had Leukemia!
Straight to Mt Sinai we went! I was under the care of *The TJ Martel Foundation for Leukemia & Cancer Research. For six weeks I was fighting the deadly blood disease, and I still remember almost everything about what I went through both as an inpatient and an outpatient for the next several years.
The Doctors, Nurses, and the rest of the staff were amazing! I remember one nurse teaching me how to give an orange an injection with a syringe! They kept me going as did my parents. My mom and dad would alternate day and night shifts and just run the car back and forth to the house “upstate.” I even remember looking out the window on May 5, 1977 and watching snow fall as the car drove by!
Six weeks felt like a long time back then, but even though it only took that long until I was in remission and could go home to my family, the fight was far from over. I continued treatment on an outpatient basis. I would get Chemotherapy for a total of 4 years and *Immunotherapy for a total of 5 years.
*Immunotherapy was used on me back in 1977. Over the past 10 years it has been in the media as a “NEW form of cancer treatment with promising results!” It’s sad that Cancer became more of an indu$try than a disease!
Around the time I was 4 years old my hair was growing back and my immunity seemed well enough that I could go out and play with all my neighborhood friends. I did everything a normal kid would do back then before technology made the world lazy. I rode bicycles mostly and started playing baseball and basketball. I was not much of a hitter in baseball but I was one of the 3 best pitchers in the league! As far as basketball, I was better than average, but I don’t think I ever had the most points in a game.
Sports were not my thing, money was! Even as a young kid I was looking for ways to make money. I shoveled driveways when it snowed out, I delivered eggs in my neighborhood for a local farmer, I got an evening newspaper route and then a larger morning newspaper route. I dropped the egg route and eventually dropped the evening newspaper route when my brother started a landscaping company in 1987 when I was 13.
It was 1987 when I finally found something I loved to do… ride ATV’s!!! Oh yes! I had been bugging my parents to let me buy (I saved more than enough money) a 1986 Honda TRX200SX ATV. They said NO over and over until the day they caved and actually bought me one that was in perfect condition. I rode as much as I could and my brother went and bought a new one to go riding with me. His business kept him too busy to ride, so I bought it from him, a new 1987 TRX250X which I modified heavily myself and made it into my unofficial race-quad. I rode every day that I didn’t have to work after school. To this day, I miss riding ATV’s the most out of anything I ever used to do.
I worked hard and I played hard. I still had my morning paper route, went to school, did landscaping as much as I could and rode the quad every free moment I had. This was my life and I was loving it! I bought a 1980 K5 Blazer plow truck when I was 14 and a brand new 1989 Thompson 200 Carrera boat when I was 15 (my brother and I split that loan)! When I turned 16 I bought a 1973 Chevy Nova which I pretty much restored over the 4 years I owned it. Then at 19 I bought a 1980 Corvette from my brother. Yes I loved cars, bikes, quads, and boats! I earned all of it with hard work and I’m glad I had the chance to enjoy it all when I could.
Then came the fall of 1994 and I decided one afternoon to just kick back and watch TV. I was watching MotoGP (motorcycle racing) and saw a commercial for Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. Bingo! I called their 800 number and a few days later I had all the info I needed to sign up! I quickly registered to start class in September 1995 in Phoenix, AZ, a place I had never visited nor did I know anyone who lived there!
Soon after I decided to move I sold all but one bicycle, sold my ATV’s, sold my Nova, and one street bike. I then sold the Corvette, my Horizon beater car, and the boat. I moved to AZ with my ’87 Yamaha FZ700 street bike and Mongoose bicycle and the help of my mom, my grandmother, my dads van and a trailer I built for the street bike.
It was from this day forward that I would no longer be the Dean I was for 21 years. This is when TheWheelDean was born…
October 24, 1995 @ 12:16pm. It was the typical beautiful afternoon in Phoenix, AZ. I was riding my motorcycle home from school alongside a friend on his motorcycle. It was my one day off that week from my evening job, so we were going to go for a ride after stopping by his job to get his paycheck. Little did I know that this plan would change my life forever.
We turned West onto Thunderbird Rd from 35th Avenue (Phoenix, AZ), and just a few hundred feet later an 80-year-old man driving eastbound turned across our westbound lanes and stopped sideways! My friend was able to speed up and get around the front of the car, but I wasn’t so lucky. In a panic and thinking that this jerk would continue to move so I could swerve around the back of the car, something didn’t process quickly enough and I locked my brakes up in the greasy center of the lane.
You can see the skid mark where my bike went down in the animation above. I slid on my metal palmed racing gloves and work boots, keeping my body off the ground to avoid getting road rash. Unfortunately, my natural instinct to protect myself bit me in the ass since I didn’t create enough friction to slow me down. So instead I hit the car right behind the front right wheel well. Look at the picture of the car. As I approached the car I tucked my left shoulder like a football player into the tire while my head snapped up and hit the fender. Yes that top dent is from my head without a helmet on! The longer dent below that is from my Jansport backpack (I still have and use), and the dent below the door molding is from my hip and leg.
After I hit the car, an eyewitness told me years later, I bounced and landed behind the car where you see my school shirt laying. I was dead on the scene. Luckily, an off-duty nurse got stuck in the traffic jam that I caused and came to my rescue. She knew my neck was broken and was able to get my heart pumping again and keep me alive until the paramedics arrived and took me to the hospital.
In ICU I underwent surgery to remove a blood clot in my brain and was put in traction to pull my neck straight. I had chipped my C1 vertebrae and crushed my spinal cord at C5,6,7. I was told that the first two neurosurgeons considered me too far gone to bother with, but a third neurosurgeon figured since I was a non-smoker and in excellent physical shape, that he would operate. His assessment after surgery was exactly this… “Underlying severe brain damage and quadriplegia.”
I was in a Stage-3 Glasgow Coma for about a week. That is as brain dead as you can get and still have a heart beat! See the chart to understand the way neurosurgeons use the coma scale to assess your likelihood of recovering.
I finally woke up a week later and they removed the breathing tubes a day or so after. I have no ICU pictures, but this picture with the therapy dog was taken at rehab about 3 weeks after my injury. I had a bad case of Pneumonia and had to be suctioned almost hourly since I couldn’t cough it out. Other than that it’s hard for me to remember the first couple of weeks at rehab because I slept close to 20 hours a day and was coming down off of a lot of drugs they were filling me with. But it wasn’t too long before I started physical and occupational therapy.
A couple weeks went by and I was able to sit up and support myself. I had absolutely no tricep function at this point. I regained a little function in my left tricep, but my right tricep is still dead. These days were tough but I had a great team of therapists who did everything they could to help me move forward.
My mother dropped everything in NY the day I got injured and stayed in AZ throughout my whole recovery and then we flew back to NY in February 1996 so I could continue therapy and move back into my parents house a few days before my 22nd birthday. A year prior to this… this was not my goal. But I had to deal with the cards I was dealt
So there I was, 22 years old and living back in my parents house trying to regain my independence. I wasn’t the kind of person to ever be depressed, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life at this point. I had always done manual labor and was always mechanical. Somehow I needed to figure out how to change that.
I ended up spending hours upon hours on the computer. This is when the “Information Super-Highway,” now known as the “internet” was fairly new and AOL was the hottest thing out. After a few weeks of chat rooms and emailing people (before instant messages existed), I stumbled upon the source code of a website. It was all Egyptian to me, so I saved it, opened it in Notepad, changed a few things and re-opened it in a browser to see what changed. That is how I figured out html and how to make websites. That’s when DeanJoyce.com was born.
I built some websites and was in college taking a bunch of useless unrelated courses, and the whole website-making thing slowly faded away in 2002. I then started to get back into cars and started selling custom car parts online which in 2004 turned into me opening an Automotive Repair Shop, NYS Inspection Station, and Used Car Dealership. I ran the business for 11 years until the end of 2015 when my girlfriend and I moved to Phoenix, AZ. It was my goal to come back here the day my mom and I flew back to NY in 1996! Finally, 20 years later and it was happening!
I was finally back in Arizona and wanted to make a new and better life for my girlfriend and I. We spent the first half of 2016 living in an apartment and enjoying some free time to roam around the valley and acclimate. Then we began looking for a house.
To our surprise, we found a house in Glendale, AZ that we could afford, and with my sisters help, we secured it and were moved in by October 2016. We could never afford a house in NY, so this was a huge step for our new life here.
A few months later I started a full-time job as a Service Writer at a local Auto Repair shop and did that for 3 years. I landed on the cover of Ratchet and Wrench magazine with a nice article inside. You can read the writeup here.
In February 2020 I decided to leave that job as I had realized I no longer wanted to be there. It was time for a nice long vacation, an annual visit from my parents, and unfortunately the beginning of the Coronavirus.
My parents arrived the first week of March for their annual two-week (turned-two-month) visit as the country shut down. We couldn’t really go anywhere, so we enjoyed each others company mostly at my house until they drove back to New York in May.
During that time and the remainder of 2020 I focused on my relationship with the love of my life as she ventured forward with a new career. I’m happy to say she is now working a job in a place she was hoping to work at for the past few years!
As far as me, I resumed my daily exercise routine to build up my strength and stamina that I lost while working my desk job.
Then came April 2021 and my girl couldn’t taste or smell anything. We caught the Virus! That was her only symptom, and although we didn’t fail a Covid test, her symptom lasted for 6-weeks while I ended up having various problems for the next 8-months! I began having a very bad episode of irregular heartbeats. I’m not talking about a skipped beat here and there, I’m talking about zero heart rhythm 24/7. I dealt with it because it happened for a few months in 2010 and 2008, and about a month in 2002. So, I continued my daily routine and even started a new job in June 2021.
While working as a Service Writer for a large Corporate Repair Shop, my health continued to decline more than ever. Covid was spreading through everyone I worked with, but I never failed a Covid test. My heart was still out of rhythm, and come the fall of 2021 I was having vision problems, dizzy spells, fatigue, chest pains, and worst of all… water in my lungs!
I had a feeling my heart was failing, and upon a few visits to my doctor and a Cardiologist, I was told that I had Severe Congestive Heart Failure! I took a brief two-week medical leave in December, immediately changed my diet and tried to de-stress. I returned to work, and gradually began feeling better. I left the stressful job in April, and in May 2022 I chose a new Cardiologist. Although I was feeling better, he couldn’t understand how I was able to function because my heart had become significantly weaker since the tests seven months prior. He told me it’s so weak he can’t prescribe any medication because it would cause my blood pressure to drop lower than my normal BP of 65/50 and possibly kill me! I asked him if diet and exercise would help, he said “nothing can change these numbers.” I refused to believe him!
In case you haven’t realized it by now, I’m a bit of a fighter. I drove home from the Doctor that day with tears in my eyes, ready to flip-off anyone who got on my nerves. I spent the rest of the day wondering what I was going to do. Sell my Corvette, maybe one of my Accords? Sell the house and move back to New York in case my heart was going to get even worse sooner than later? Like seriously??? Why?!?
My mind was all over the place that day, but then I started googling! Nothing else mattered! I wanted to find a way to turn my heart failure around. I spent close to 10 hours a day every day for 2 straight months looking for research done outside of the medical system in our country. I read more in 2 months than I have in 20 years! I found a lot of good information and started applying it right away. I also requested all my medical records from my previous Doctors in NY. To my surprise I show a blockage in my Left Coronary Artery on an ECG at age 28. Then at age 32 I show a Myocardail Infarction (Heart Attack) which occured sometime between age 28-32. Neither my Doctor nor my Cardiologist back then ever told me! They were testing me for a bad heart but told me everything was fine! This is why I recommend you always demand copies of your medical records!
Anyway, fast forward to 3 months later and my follow-up tests have shown proof that my research is paying off. I have lowered my BNP levels significantly and improved my stamina while maintaining a steady heart rhythm. Reducing stress, changing to a strict plant-based diet, getting a daily dose of sunlight, and a few other lifestyle changes have made more of a positive difference than any medication ever could! Upon my last visit to the heart clinic my condition is no longer considered “Congestive.” It’s still serious, but at least it’s steadily improving!