July 23, 2013
Expressions like “Life can turn on a dime” or “In a New York minute” does not have much gravity until it really happens to you or someone you love…
On the morning of July 23, 2013, Tucker Winfrey was a carefree 18 year old at the time. He had just graduated from high school where he was an accomplished lacrosse player and budding artist. He and his family were enjoying a week at the beach. It’s hard to say what was on his mind when he woke up, but it likely wasn’t more dramatic than what he planned to do later that evening or the next day. Just a few hours later, the proverbial “dime” turned and Tucker’s life changed forever.
It happened at the beach. Tucker was in the surf and decided to dive through a wave. Tucker described what happened next as “hitting a wall of sand.” He immediately lost feeling in his legs and arms and questioned if he would have enough oxygen to survive as he floated face down in the ocean. Fortunately, he was rescued and revived on the shore.
Time blurred. Tucker was transported to a regional hospital and then airlifted to Washington Hospital Center in D.C. For the next three weeks, he fought for his life. The fracture of the C4 disk had left him paralyzed. Breathing was the big issue. He fought for every breath as his diaphragm muscles, compromised by the paralysis, and his lungs, repeatedly filling with thick mucus-like secretions in response to the salt water he had inhaled, struggled to work. Eventually, a tracheotomy was performed and Tucker was connected to a ventilator that could breathe for him when he tired. Somehow, through the combination of his own strength and drive, the heroic efforts of his medical team, and the prayers of family and friends, Tucker emerged from this life-threatening battle and embarked on the next phase of his recovery. Tucker’s physical condition at this point in time was such that he could not move his arms or his legs.
With the tracheotomy still in place, Tuck and his mom were transported to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia on August 14th. Shepherd is a spinal cord rehabilitation center that specializes in working with young people such as Tucker. Tucker worked daily at rebuilding his body and learning to cope with his new reality.
He bravely confronted his first challenge, learning to operate his motorized wheelchair using puffs of air breathed into a straw. The work was harder than anything he had ever had to do. The rewards of physical therapy came slowly. A small muscle twitch was cause to rejoice for it meant that perhaps, just maybe, control of the muscle movement might follow. Tucker spent 2 ½ months at Shepherd and is now home in Northern Virginia continuing therapy.