“At the age of 26, I was a care free guy just loving his life without major complications. All that was set to change. What life had in store for me no one could have expected. I faced adversity, pain, tears, and coming to terms with having my dreams dashed, but I found something amazing. I found a strength in myself I never knew existed. A strength to overcome what could easily be described as a nightmare… and then something occurred to me. I had this strength inside myself the whole time, we all do, we just need to unlock it. I was forced to unlock it due to my incident, but I can share my insight with others so they can unlock it themselves.
What started like any other Tuesday would end with me being rushed to hospital, fighting for my life. It was 2 days after Valentine’s day in 2016, a time spent creating some amazing memories with my girlfriend at the time, who I am lucky enough to call my wife now. Those memories would be so valuable to us as they would be the last remnants of my old life taken from me.
On the evening of the 16th of February 2016, I had armed intruders attempt to enter my home. It started with my dog barking at something outside the open front door, it was the type of bark that raised the hair on the back of my neck, I knew something was wrong. My dad and I jumped up from the couch and ran to the door. I got there first, as I entered the doorway all I heard was a very loud bang. Suddenly my legs dropped out from underneath me, it was strange as I hadn’t felt any pain at first but I just lay there helplessly watching the scene unfold.
My dad tried to slam the door closed as the intruder stuck his arm, with the gun in hand, through the gap. My dad struggled with him for what felt like forever. Eventually the intruder pulled his hand back and my dad locked the door and called the police, they would later find footprints of 3 people at the point where they bypassed our security. I remember lying there, worried that the intruders would shoot through the door, I asked my dad, ‘Please, drag me to the kitchen for safety!’ I could not get up by myself. I then thought I needed to contact my girlfriend, to tell her what happened but also to reassure her, yes the guy bleeding out on the floor wanted to reassure someone who was unaware of what had happened.
I sent her a voice note but she was unable to hear me as I had heavy, labored breathing. She called me, and all I got out was, ‘I have been shot but I am fine. I won’t let this get me down. I love you.’ Now according to her, that statement contradicts itself. Shot but fine??? We still disagree about this, almost 5 years later.
Back to me lying on the kitchen floor, bleeding heavily from the gunshot wound in my stomach, waiting for the paramedics. I realized I should do something but didn’t know what, so I did what any self-respecting millennial would, I Googled ‘lower abdomen gunshot wound first aid’… I know, right? And they say technology is bad for us. All Google said was to apply pressure, which I did as much as possible, although I could feel the energy drain out of me due to the blood loss. At this point whichever nerves were injured decided this would be a great time to wake up. It was not a fun experience at all! The only way I could describe it is as an intense, burning pain, the red-hot fire poker comes to mind. A level of pain I had never felt before.
When the paramedics arrived, they decided the best plan was to airlift me to Milpark, a specialized hospital in the next city over. This would be a defining factor which resulted in my life being saved as Milpark had a machine (called ECMO) that only 4 hospitals in the country had at the time. Without it I would be dead. My last memory is being loaded in to the helicopter with the on-board paramedic saying he was going to give me something for the pain. He came to see me before I left the hospital and told me that they gave me a mere 3% chance of survival because of the type of injury and the amount of blood I had lost. I shouldn’t be alive but I am and I am eternally grateful!
At the hospital I underwent emergency surgery to try stop the bleeding. I had heavy internal damage due to the bullet fragmenting into many pieces. I lost my spleen and left kidney. I was very upset when I heard this, do you have any idea how much one of those is worth? The doctors suspected there might be damage to the spinal cord but could only verify this after I awoke. Interestingly enough, the bullet didn’t damage the bone, but the shockwave was strong enough to damage the spinal cord inside. I was placed in an induced coma to help me recover, it would take 5 weeks before I woke up. When I finally awoke, my family and doctors felt a sense of relief, as the 5 weeks were very touch and go, but this is where my struggles would truly begin.
I did indeed have damage to the spinal cord at level L1L. I remember the first time I tried to feel my legs in hospital, it was so alien, I could feel nothing, as if I had grabbed someone else’s cold legs. For 26 years I relied on them, and now they couldn’t be bothered to communicate with me. They just ignored me flat out.
Leaving the hospital after 9 weeks I went to a physical rehab center to learn to use a wheelchair. This was an incredibly important step in my journey as I could now adapt and live my life to the best of my abilities with the correct information and training. During my 8 weeks at rehab, something amazing happened. I had a muscle return in my right leg, it was faint but it listened to me and responded. Over the years, I have had a handful of muscles return in my right leg. I am hoping and planning to walk again, but I also know that if it never happens I will accept that, too.
After the rehab phase, I tried to return to my life as normal but suddenly everything had changed. I had changed. I went from being the independent, stubborn guy who would carry all the grocery bags in one trip, to being the guy that couldn’t even carry one bag without something inevitably being squashed. I am not allowed to carry the bag with the bread, ever.
I had so many struggles, but the hardest part was allowing myself to be vulnerable. To stop being stubborn and start asking for help and accepting it when it was offered. Realizing my value as a person, and as a man, doesn’t stop because I am not able to do certain things. It is about doing everything I can still do to the best of my ability. Together, my wife and I have had so many new, amazing experiences, even winning our dream wedding in a competition! We got married in October of 2018. My wife deserves me at my best, but she stuck with me through many painful and embarrassing situations, even going as far as to throw me an anniversary picnic while in the hospital, and for all that, I owe it to her to be the best version of me.
I think what made the transition easier for me was the fact that I appreciated being alive, I very nearly died, so I would be happy with any life I was offered. I joke about it saying, ‘I would choose a wheelchair over a hearse any day!!!’ I also had an amazing support structure! My friends and family helped me through it and supported me when I needed it, but also left me to figure it out on my own too. It would be very easy for me to play the disability card as to why I can’t do something, but they didn’t allow me to use it as an excuse.
I was living my life to the best of my ability. This got noticed by other people. One day, my medical supplier case manager asked me to tell my story at their association’s provincial convention, I riled at the thought. Sure, I enjoy teaching people and I like how my story can help others, but I am not a public speaker. I am an introvert who doesn’t like speaking to more than 3 people at once. Reluctantly, I went through with it. It ended up being a defining moment in my life.
I was ill prepared and incredibly nervous, I am sure my legs would have been shaking if they could. But I told my story and finished as soon as I could as not to inconvenience the people too much. The overwhelmingly positive response I got was incredible, a whole auditorium of people who might have had their day improved just because I said some things they resonated with. Because I said I could cope with my problems that day, they felt like they could cope with their problems. They even asked me to return to their larger national convention which I did, and this time I was better prepared.
This talk made me realize I can help people by sharing the lessons I learned through my ordeal with people who need it. It isn’t that I have overcome something impossible. I have met many people with a Spinal Cord Injuries who went on to live amazing, fruitful lives. It was that I could help others gain perspective on their problems and teach them ways to cope and prosper despite those problems. Going through what I did taught me many lessons on life, the power of mindset and how to adapt to overcome adversity. Now, I share those lessons. Spending my time improving my skills to deliver my message better and better. Now I am a Professional Inspirational Speaker, so I can help others and show them that life is what you make of it.
It has been an incredible journey so far, filled with new memories and a new set of dreams, ones completely unrelated to what I had before my injury. I would never have thought my plan for my life would be to help other people, but here I am. Going from wanting a simple, comfortable life, to my new, slightly more ambitious goal. I want my story to reach and help more than 1 million people within my lifetime. It is a goal I am working on achieving and I look forward to the journey.
I am still the same person I always have been, I am now just a better version who went through one hell of an upgrade process. If I was given the opportunity I honestly wouldn’t change what happened to me. I do not regret a single thing other than not selling that kidney when I could have, and taking a long holiday…”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tyron L. Harding. You can follow his journey on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Submit your own story here and sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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