Let me introduce you to Jason, a tall glass of water, this guy. MEOW! If you saw him in person, whew, those eyes, that smile, the energy radiating from his being, you too would think those I-could-just-drink-him-up thoughts. But let’s get on track here…
Jason has been athletic his whole life and his 6’4” height gave him an advantage that he admittedly enjoyed. He is now 42 years old. He has a beautiful wife and three loving, energetic, almost-teenage children. He is an active member in his community and church. Those facts alone keep him quite busy and engaged. Jason tells me his life is full.
Six years ago, Jason suffered a spinal cord injury that left him diagnosed as a quadriplegic.
That’s right. Quadri = Four.
Jason was working out when the accident happened. His alarm went off, six a.m. “I better get my workout in before the kids wake up.” Coffee… gym clothes… sit-ups… push-ups… ok time for some pull-ups. Set one: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Boom! Set two: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Bap! Set three: 5, 4… Smack! WTF just happened.
Jason fell to the ground. A whopping four feet for this tall guy doing pull ups in his home gym. Four feet he fell back. But something was wrong. He could tell. His back hurt. It took him a second as he lay on the floor to catch his breath, but in those few seconds, just as he was assessing what happened, his wife popped in. His wife was usually dead asleep at 6:15 in the morning. But on this day, something startled her awake before Jason fell. Something woke her up and told her to go check on Jason literally as he was falling those four measly feet.
His wife came in within seconds of the fall and Jason told her, while lying on the floor,
“I think I hurt my back.”
“Oh man,” she thought. “I better call grandpa to come over and watch xthe kids so we can get you to the hospital.” How the heck am I going to get my husband to the car? Jason’s wife, Jenn, stood at about 5’4”, an entire foot shorter than her burly hubby.
When Jenn called her father to watch the children, his wife answered the phone just after six am. She was a nurse and upon hearing the news of the accident and Jason saying his hands ‘felt tingly,’ she instructed Jenn to immediately call 911. Out of precautionary measures Jenn and Jason did not move him from his position until the Emergency Responders arrived. At this point neither of them thought much of the situation other than they didn’t want to startle the children with the noise of the sirens or the sight of daddy being hauled off in a stretcher. Jenn lovingly put an icepack under Jason’s head, and they waited for help to arrive. It wasn’t long before he was cautiously stabilized, wheeled to the ambulance, and taken directly to Renown hospital in Reno… this is where he would be for the next three weeks.
Jason explained how little of that time he remembers. His wife recalled many of the shocking moments that unfolded during those dreadful days. After the initial X-rays, the doctor informed Jason, “you fractured your neck.”
This came as a shock to the couple because the pain was in his back, the entire time they were worried about a back injury, no one even considered a neck injury, not even the thought of a spinal cord injury. Hell, the medical professionals told them it was a fracture. “You hear fracture and you think, okay, it’s not that severe,” the couple informed me. And at that point, Jason could wiggle his hands and feet, so the devastating news that they would hear some three days later floored them. After the initial X-rays were performed, the couple was advised that Jason would undergo two surgeries. The first would be on the front of his neck and a couple days later, the doctors would operate on the back of his neck. It took twelve hours for the surgeon to even go ahead and BEGIN the first surgery. Looking back, they wondered why all that time passed. Not to mention the agony and discomfort Jason suffered having been strapped to a stiff board while he awaited the actions that would commence his medical care. It wasn’t until after the second surgery that Jason was informed that he was paralyzed with a C-4 Spinal Cord Injury.
From a four-foot fall.
Their entire world changed.
In addition to all that he experienced from his traumatic injury, Jason faced many trying moments during those twenty-some arduous days at the hospital in Reno. First of all, due to his size, he was uncomfortable much of the time. Most hospital equipment is not made for those who stand over six-feet-tall; thanks to his wife and amazing team of support, Jason’s concerns were heard bit by bit and he would receive occasional relief. Jason struggled to breathe most evenings. The medical team would only increase his oxygen supply intermittently, despite the many complaints of his difficulty breathing, due to the fact that the doctor feared possible injury to Jason’s lungs. Pretty much initially, he had to have a tracheotomy, which is a surgically created opening in one’s neck that allows direct access to the breathing tube. This alone caused him much discomfort during that time, as well as leaving him unable to talk. Can you imagine going through all of these emotions, anxieties, frustrations and fears and not be able to talk about it either? Oh, and by the way, he also had to have his gallbladder removed in the midst of all of this. Talk about being pushed to the freakin’ brink.
It was literally a blur of moment-by-moment survival. And to top it all off, Jason didn’t see his children during these three weeks. He did not want the kids to see him like this: tubes everywhere, bandages, IVs, cords and machines connected to his body. As much as he yearned for their presence, he was concerned for what effect it would leave on them to see him in that state. But once they received news that the next phase of the game plan was to head to a specialty hospital in Colorado for an undetermined amount of time, Jason needed to see his littles. To his delight, when Jenn explained to the kids that daddy would be in a wheelchair, the kids expressed immediate acceptance and support and his son even commented, “Daddy can play wheelchair basketball!”
Soon thereafter, Jason was on an airplane to Craig hospital in Colorado. The airplane was just big enough for Jason on his stretcher, Jenn and the limited medical and flight staff. Craig hospital was a rehabilitation hospital that focused on Spinal Cord Injuries and traumatic brain injuries. This place was the next step for Jason. He stayed in Colorado for the next three months with his bride by his side. There he focused on extensive physical and occupational therapies as well as learning to cope with his injury. It was a good transition place and since he was around other folks with similar injuries, he didn’t feel “as on display” as he would later recount as one of the biggest dismays about his situation. Until you are the guy in the wheelchair, you may not realize how often people stare at the guy in the wheelchair, especially kids and especially when you are the 6’4” guy in the really big electric wheelchair. It’s simply hard not to be seen.
At the time, the Giovannoni’s didn’t take into much account the expenses of this injury. They were a single-income household, and Jason was the breadwinner. He worked for an energy company in Reno and luckily, he had health insurance during this catastrophic ordeal. It was just a few months prior to the injury that Jenn felt prompted that Jason opt for the “Death and Dismemberment Insurance” in addition to regular healthcare and short-term disability benefits, just in case. It was only a few extra dollars a month out of pocket for a coverage of some $250,000. It’s crazy how some things unfold without a real explanation, but luckily for them, that extra coverage helped them out that year. I’ll quickly fill you in on just some of the expenses incurred after this injury. NOT INCLUDING HOSPITAL BILLS, nor the airplane flight from Reno to Englewood, CO.
$3,500 – shower chair
$1,500 – Hoyer lift (to assist Jason in getting out of bed)
$2,000 – standing frame (to regularly get Jason in standing position for countless benefits)
$14,000 – *GREAT DEAL* on a custom van tall enough for Jason to ride in in his chair.
(The family found this used and already customized for a man of his height, but new it
would be upwards of $60,000)
$14,000 – F.E.S Bike (Functional electrical stimulation that stimulates paralyzed muscles)
$30,000 – power wheelchair
Just to name a few expenses this couple had to face. And realistically, one would hope that he or she could just do what needs to be done in order to achieve the best outcome possible, but in reality, this family of five needed to weigh their options for each expense. On top of facing all that they had to face emotionally, physically, and mentally… there was always the lingering financial burden of this accident.
After three months in Colorado, it was time to come home. When I asked Jason what he felt at that time, he explained he felt determined and just wanted to “figure this out”. I asked Jason if he felt depressed about his situation and I was surprised to hear that he wasn’t. He explained to me the anger that raged within him for that first year. He was angry at God for allowing this to happen, and for not healing him, despite the many, many prayers from him, his wife and children, his family, his loved ones and the church. Jenn and Jason recounted how every night for that first year the family would say their prayers and always pray for “daddy to walk again”. Jason said he felt inadequate. He knew he would have to depend on people for the rest of his life. If he was hungry, he couldn’t feed himself. When he needed to go to the bathroom, he couldn’t relieve himself on his own, and there was no way he could bathe himself. He expressed that he had a few passing thoughts that “oh, they would be better off without me,” or, “they could live their lives like they did before my accident,” but he explained how few and far between those thoughts were, they seemingly passed by as swiftly as they came, and only in that first year. Jason also felt inadequate as a man and as a lover. “To have that taken away was rough.”
Instead of focusing on all that he had lost, he had to focus on “trying to figure this crap out.” There wasn’t time to wallow in his situation. And before the injury, Jason wasn’t the type of man to wallow anyway, so why would that change now? I could give you a million reasons why he had every right to change his attitude towards life after his injury, but Jason wasn’t and isn’t that type of man. He’s a fighter, a survivor, he is strong and focused… and he was all of those things before his accident. So now, with his new challenges, he has resolute adherence to “never give up.” Even he acknowledges that things could have been worse. “I could be bed-ridden or still in my power-chair.” Although Jason is in fact a quadriplegic, he has come a long way in his recovery to be in a nonelectric wheelchair. He does not have the use of his hands and fingers, but he is able to use his palms to manipulate his movements in his chair. He and his family have adapted to life over the past six years that have enabled them to live a meaningful existence. Jason admits that his situation is a constant struggle and a constant battle, and he encourages other people who are going through difficulties to keep fighting and work hard to put yourself in the right mindset. “You cannot give up!” He exclaims with that radiant smile on his face.
The couple mentioned setbacks and difficulties they have experienced and foresee for the future, like the thorough preparations and cautious considerations they must make for simple vacations like going to the beach or Disneyland. Both of these specific things they have tried and achieved successfully, but with much discomfort and realistic struggles. They also hold great hope for the future of science and medicine and Jason wants to be in prime condition to make him an optimal candidate for what the future might bring. He works out every day and takes care of his body and mind the best he can. His family is a strong unit of support for one another and he proudly announces that his family is definitely what he is most proud of in his life. Even with the average human’s challenges with life and family, Jason has proven to rise above his circumstances to still encourage and radiate life, love, faith and hope. He is often told that he is a vision of hope, and he bashfully shares that he thinks he is just living his life and doing the best he can with what he has. “Do I want to be a vegetable, or do I want to live life? I choose the latter.”
Moving forward, especially in the year 2020, Jason wants to share his story more and continue to inspire hope for others. As he’s come to realize, it is just by being alive and sharing what he’s gone through that he can achieve this. It is nothing that extravagant, but merely opening up about his life and letting the light shine through.
I admire him for that.
I admire him for more than that, too, but hell, all it makes me think is if he can keep on keeping on with all that has been stacked against him, than I guess I can too.
So, thanks Jason, for simply being you.
You inspire us.