I don’t talk much about my family but I come from a very large one. It’s funny because our family is close and not close. For example, I don’t speak to my cousins often. Every few months we will text to check on each other, hear about one another through our parents, or we will stay connected through social media. However, we are still very close in the sense that if anything happens to any one of us there is an immediate family-wide response.
In 2007, my cousin Victor was in a near fatal car accident. Immediately the whole family was in action to support him and his family unit. He was critically injured, breaking his neck in two places and with major internal injuries. The prognosis was grim. Our family was on pins and needles, praying for the best, but also bracing for the worst. Miraculously he survived but was paralyzed from the waist down.
Just so you understand how devastating this was. Victor was an athlete his entire life. He was a few years older than me (I’m around the same age as his younger sister and when I was a kid he treated me like his little sister, “like a chap” as my family would say); but I remember Vic playing every sport he could. He and his sisters were all college athletes. His athletic ability was a huge part of who he was. I remember my grandparents collecting newspaper articles about him playing sports. They were immensely proud of him. So for him to be in an accident where he wouldn’t walk again was just beyond painful. The accident seemed to have stolen the essence of who he was.
He was hospitalized for five months. The first two months were in North Carolina where he lived and the last three were in Atlanta at the Shepherd Center, a hospital that specializes in spinal cord and brain injury, where I lived at the time.
As the only family member living in Atlanta, I went to see him every day. To see a person you’ve known your entire life as this very gregarious athletic person suddenly lying in a hospital bed dealing with the reality of not being able to use his legs again was a very sobering and humbling experience. While it was hurtful to me, I had no idea then and still have no idea how painful it was for him to face what was a complete change in his life forever.
I must say that I believe and will always believe that the Shepherd Center is the best hospital on the face of the earth. Never have I seen such a positive hospital staff especially given that this hospital treats only catastrophic injuries. They deal with rehabilitating the worst of injuries, and they do it with the most positive energy I’ve ever experienced. So while my cousin was mentally and physically in a lot of pain, I believe he was in the best place to recover. The staff simply wouldn’t let him succumb to hopelessness. What they do there is truly amazing.
In reflection, those daily trips to see my cousin were much more helpful to me than to him, although he may not have thought so. It was there that I witnessed the strength of Victor’s determination to overcome the worst of circumstances.
I am not saying that he was happy and motivated all the time; he wasn’t. He had some very tough days. Losing the ability to walk and having to relearn how to do basic things like putting on socks, which was now an extremely difficult task, was very hard on him. Independence from others was suddenly a goal, a goal most of us take for granted. We never think about how seemingly small a thing as putting on socks could be a huge challenge to someone else. Yet, here he was learning to do just that.
Victor fought through. And he caused me to do a lot of soul searching about my own life. He didn’t know that I had recently become pregnant and was fighting serious morning sickness. In fact, there were days when I felt sick and really wanted to stay home and not go visit him. But, then I would think about what he was battling through and how determined he was. Suddenly morning sickness seemed small, so I would pick myself up and go see him. It’s funny because when I would get to the hospital the morning sickness would subside.
I remember one of the highlights for Victor was when one of his sisters came for a visit. As I’ve mentioned, they are all athletes and very competitive. Well, his sister, Sandra, challenged Victor to a game of ping-pong. To this day, that game still makes me smile because Vic was feeling a little bit sorry for himself that day. But, Sandra wasn’t having it. She didn’t play easy on him either. (San doesn’t let you win anything). It turned out that despite being in a wheel chair, Victor was still very good at ping-pong and I think it put a little glimmer of hope in him, that while his life had changed, it wasn’t over. The athlete was still there, just different.
Soon Victor would go back to his home in North Carolina and I wouldn’t talk to him daily anymore. In fact, as the years passed we were back in our normal pattern; my mom would talk to him much more than I.
In the past seven years he accomplished so much. He not only was able to retain his independence, he learned to drive again, and also got a new job. He brought so much warmth and inspiration to the people around him, even complete strangers were touched by his positive outlook on life. He truly overcame the worst of circumstances. He proved to me and many others that you can do whatever you put your mind to. He lived.
He never knew this but he inspired me. Still does. I’ve had to face some major challenges these last couple of years, nothing anywhere near as difficult as Victor, but the fight he had in him, I have found in me. He overcame something much worse than what I’m going through and truth is, if he could do that, I can make it through this because it’s nothing nearly as hard as waking up and not being able to walk again.
He also inspired me to reach for my own goals, not limit myself or think I can’t do something. It’s your own thoughts that keep you from being the person you truly want to be.
I write this because I want to share a person who greatly impacted my life. I feel that my cousin Victor should be someone we can all admire. He is and will always be an amazing person. And while he may no longer be with us physically, his strength, determination, and spirit will never leave us.
Victor, you are an amazing person! I am thankful that I got to spend that little bit of time with you in Atlanta. It is a time that I will always cherish. You inspired me more than you could ever know. You will truly be missed.
To Victor’s Dad and Mom, Bobby and Arnette Dillard, his sisters, Sandra Dillard and Torsheda Ransom, his wife Karen Dillard, and children Kiana and Victor I send my heartfelt condolences and my love.
If you would like to learn more about the great work done by the Sheperd Center please click here.