The wheel dean

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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.

The best and last bike I ever owned!
I like to make a good first impression.

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 vertabre 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 video 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

Removing the halo brace that has been drilled into my skull for 14 weeks.
Jill, Let's reconnect!

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 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 years later turned into me owning an auto repair business which I ran 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!  That took 20 years too long!

Let me take a step back here and explain my actual injury and the extent of my paralysis since most people seem surprised when I tell them in person.

I am an incomplete C5 / complete C6-7 Spinal Cord Injury.  This means yes I can breath on my own and never had a trache.  I cannot move my fingers nor thumbs.  My thumbs and inner wrist area is hypersensitive and pulse a constant pain like when you miss the nail and the hammer bashes your hand!  Yes this is constant, but I rarely notice it until I think about it like right now as I type (dammit).  It’s amazing how you can make your mind interpret pain as pleasure in some twisted way.

As far as the rest of me, I have wrist extension but weak wrist flexion with no supination or pronation.  My biceps are strong but I only have about 40% tricep in my left arm with nearly 0% tricep in my right arm.  My shoulders are strong and are my new erogenous zone since all feeling from my armpits-down is completely gone.  Other than spasms, I have zero movement or feeling below my armpit line straight across.  But yes.  Let me just leave it at yes because there is still one question you are thinking about.  So.  YES!  (devilish grin).

Me on the cover of Ratchet and Wrench Magazine

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 it was a dead end.  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 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, started “The Wheel Dean,” and became a Peer Mentor for other disabled individuals.  I then rebuilt in it’s entirety and in doing so, asked myself… “What am I going to do now?  What am I good at?  What will support the life that I want to have?”

Back in February when I decided to leave the Auto Repair Shop, I thought I might be done with the car industry.  However, since then I realized I am not done with the industry, I am done with any job that stifles my abilities.  I am and always have been management material.  I built my auto business in New York without any advertising!  I made sure every customer of mine was happy and that is all that mattered!  I know how to build relationships, and historically the relationships I have built is what grew my business!

2020 was a year where most of us took a hit one way or another.  I decided to ride it out and start off 2021 by looking for a managerial-type job at a luxury automotive dealership.  I am aware of a few new ones being built in my area, so I’ll be honing in on those.  I need a healthy work environment that will allow me to flex my brain and prove my value.  That is the job I will take to retirement age!

Right after a foam cannon bath!

Update 1/4/2021…  Happy New Year!!!  Let’s hope this year is an improvement over 2020.  I really don’t see how it can be worse, but who knows in these uncertain times.  Stop looking for things to “get back to normal” because what we are in right now has become normal to most unfortunately.  Just pick yourself up and go forward!  Be a good person and be good to others:-)

If you’re wondering what my life was like before I moved to AZ in 2016, then you’re going to want to click here to read about it.  Why am I about to sit down and eat dinner with Ozzy in this picture when I was only 10 years old?  You’ll find out about that and a whole lot more, so get a drink, put on your PJ’s, get comfy and click here!