Monday, September 22, 2014

Prayers for Russ

August 7th was the last time I went for a run with my workout buddy, Russ.  We did four miles in a local park, then had breakfast afterward at a diner.  Ironically, one of the things we talked about over breakfast was accidents and health insurance—in the previous weeks I had fallen off a ladder, my father-in-law, Jack, had broken his leg, and my wife, Manette, had badly pulled a muscle, all doing mundane things in our backyard.

That afternoon, Russ took his daughter to the beach on Long Island.  Russ went for one last dip in the water, dove in and hit a sand bar.  He fractured his C-1 and C-2 vertebrae and now he’s paralyzed from the neck down.

I met Russ about six years ago shortly after I joined Mr. Bill Fitness, the local gym where we both work out.  You get to know everybody at MBF right away, even if you don’t want to.  You don’t have much choice; it’s a small gym.  More than that, it’s social, and Mr. Bill is a great motivator and trainer.  He’s created an environment in which everybody both razzes each other and pulls together to support each other’s fitness and health goals.

Russ and I became workout buddies about 5 1/2 years ago.  Mr. Bill held an evening meeting, attended by most of the core group of gym rats, for each of us to figure out some way to support Russ’ goal of quitting smoking.  My commitment was for Russ and me to do a buddy workout together every other week with Mr. Bill.  Ever since, every other Wednesday Mr. Bill has put us through the ringer for an hour with a series of exercises—free weights, floor exercises, aerobics, weight machines, calisthenics—that make our muscles feel like wet noodles by the time we’re finished.

Most recently, Russ and I were teammates in MBF’s Summer Meltdown Challenge, in which a group of two-person teams kept track of our aerobic minutes, buddy workouts, weight training sessions, etc. for about a month, in friendly competition that kept us all motivated.  Russ and I were always team members in MBF’s annual Holiday Weight Maintenance Challenge in which four- or five-member teams keep up our fitness goals and our weight from getting out of control from just before Thanksgiving until the first week of January.  And Russ and I were always team members on the Jersey Shore Relay Marathon run from Seaside Heights to Asbury Park each spring.  That’s Russ in the photo at left, mugging for the camera as he finished his 6.2-mile leg of this year’s race.

The first time a group of us from MBF saw Russ after his accident he was still flat on his back in the hospital out on Long Island, pretty doped up from one of his many surgeries, with ventilator and feeding tubes coming out of his mouth.  He was unable to speak but was responsive to us with his eyes.  Now he’s at a world-class rehab facility in northern New Jersey, sitting up in a wheelchair and the tubes have been inserted directly into his trachea and stomach, so he’s able to talk by timing his words with the rhythm of his ventilator.  He’s still Russ: his self-effacing sense of humor, his positive attitude.  He can move his neck and has his normal facial expressions.  Most important, his mind is 100%.

All of us at Mr. Bill Fitness have gotten over the initial shock but are still quietly heartsick.  We’re all pulling for him, visiting as often as we can, sending cards and goofy gifts, and Mr. Bill films videos on his iPhone of us cheering him on.  Even those of us who aren’t much at praying are giving it our all in the effort for his recovery.

That’s the reason for this blog: if you have prayer circles, prayer chains or whatever you call them, and if you’re particularly good at it, or even if you’re not very good at it all, any and all prayers would be appreciated.  I’m still shooting for the moon in mine, asking for a miraculous full recovery, but I confess I’d settle for him breathing on his own and being able to use his upper body again.  Please pass this link around for others to pitch in.  Our buddy needs the help.

February 2015 Update:

Russ recently underwent a groundbreaking new surgery to attach a pacemaker-type device to his diaphragm that will electronically tell his diaphragm muscles to cause him to breathe without his ventilator. The other day he spent five full hours off his ventilator using the diaphragm activator, and his goal is to be able to breathe entirely on his own within the next few months. He's moving out of the rehab at the end of the month into a local apartment with another challenged roommate and a full-time health aide.

We have sponsored a gofundme page for Russ to try to help him raise the money to buy a motorized wheelchair that he can operate himself using a joystick in his mouth, which will give him some degree of independence in his new life. We can't fund it entirely ourselves, so if you're inclined to help, please go to his page here and give what you can.  Thank you.