Monday, December 19, 2011

Simple Yet Powerful

While I was in the hospital, I had many different cards and pictures from friends and family taped on the walls. These cards ranged from store bought get well cards to construction paper homemade cards. Several of the homemade cards were from Alex's schoolmates. When I was scared or afraid, I would look on the walls and read some of the cards. One card that spoke to me during my most difficult times is posted below. It was made by one of the students at Grace Christian and truly helped me make it through those particularly tough times. A simple, yet powerful message.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Michigan Rehab Services

Michigan Rehab Services is a program to help Michigan residents with disabilities achieve employment and self sufficiency.

In order to meet my job requirements as listed by my employer, I am required to stand a small percentage of the time. My therapists at Mary Free Bed helped me trial a standing wheelchair and found one that worked perfectly. I was told that MRS would be a good place to check into and that they would likely pay for the chair so that I could return to work. I called MRS for information and found out that I had to first sit through a orientation before they can begin working with me.

My orientation was this morning at 10:00pm at the Michigan Works building in Paw Paw. I should have known from the start that something was amiss. 1) When I arrived 10 minutes prior to 10:00 and I was the only vehicle parked in a handicap parking spot. 2) When there were several 18-30 year olds who smelled like cheap weed milling around the entrance of the building. 3) When 4 of the 8 individuals attending the orientation were accompanied by their parents.

The orientation was a combination lecture and PowerPoint. The first topic was the types of disabilities that are eligible for MRS assistance. The speaker went over several obvious disabilities like being blind, hearing impaired, or being unable to walk. When the speaker mentioned that drug abuse was a disability... I almost fell out of my chair! Now I understood why the pot head meth group was here. When did having a drug problem become a disability?

I have absolutely no problem with tax money going to assist individuals who have true disabilities. However, I draw the line at tax money going to help individuals with a dependency on illegal substances and call it a disability. Maybe we should open up the disability program to tobacco users next. I'm sure there are individuals out there who are having trouble finding work or need to be re-trained now that smoking in public places has been outlawed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A letter to the driver of the SUV

Driver of the SUV,

I don't know if you will ever actually read this or not...

First, I would like to first introduce myself: My name is Matthew Sexton and I am the motorcycle rider that you hit on May 10th of this year. I am a husband, a father of four, and a volunteer firefighter. My children are 2, 5, 18, and 21. I have been a volunteer firefighter for my local community for 20 years. I had a birthday while i was in the hospital and I turned 37 years old.

Since you have made no attempt to contact me or my family, I will give you a brief synopsis of the last 6 months of my life. As I'm sure you saw in the news, I was critically injured in the accident. Both of my lungs were collapsed, my pelvis was broken in two places, my lower leg was almost torn off of my body, both of my arms were broken, and my spine was broken in two places. I was in the hospital for 2 months, a nursing home for 2 months, and a rehab facility for a month. My spine was completely served in the accident and I am a T6 Paraplegic. My life has changed dramatically due to the accident.

I don't know where you were heading in such a hurry that morning on state road 23. Evidentially the trucks traveling at 55 miles per hour were not going fast enough for you and you needed to pass them. I myself, was heading to work in Walkerton. I have worked for Polygon as a medical product development engineer for almost 4 years now. I have been very fortunate that I work for such a great company that has supported me throughout this entire ordeal.

The minimal insurance that was on the truck you were driving, has covered less than 5% of the actual costs of the accident. My lawyer completed a background check and advised that you have nothing of value and that it would be futile to sue you for any damages. Luckily, I have wonderful friends and family that have put together several fund raisers that have helped offset the out of pocket medical costs and modifications to my home.

Since the accident, I have learned to enjoy every minute that I'm alive and not to hesitate telling every person in my life exactly how much they mean to me. I've learned to hug my children tighter and to kiss my wife every time I leave them.

The Bible tells me that I shall forgive you... Matthew 6:14 "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins"

Through much thought and prayer I can finally say that I have forgiven you.

Thank You,

Matthew Sexton

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Walking in the grass

Vivienne's preschool class went outside one day last week barefoot to feel the grass on their bare feet. She was so excited by this she told us about this during dinner.

Hearing this made me think about all of the little things that I took for granted before. The feel of the grass on my feet is one of those little things. I had become engrossed in the hustle and bustle daily life and forgot to enjoy the little things in life.

I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in this... How many of us can honestly say that they appreciate daily the little things in life that we have been blessed with?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Taking out the trash

I'm often asked, "What is the hardest part of having a Spinal Cord Injury?"

Is it the loss of mobility that comes with loosing function of your legs? Is it the pain after the surgery? Or is it the added difficulty associated with being in a wheelchair?

The answer: Watching my wife struggle while taking two trash cans out to the road.

For me, the most difficult part of this has been watching my wife do the tasks, that prior to the accident were mine to do. Taking out the trash, carrying in the heavy bags of salt, and other tasks around the house were my contribution to the household and added to my self worth. It's a damaging blow to my self esteem and my self worth to have to watch my wife complete these tasks now. To sit-by and watch while someone you love struggles, knowing that you physically can't help them.

It's not just the physical contributions, it's the financial contributions as well. I have always been the one who provided financially for my family. The fact is that, I haven't worked in over 5 months and have brought in no money. So, I can't physically help and I'm not contributing any money to the household. I'm really struggling with my self esteem and trying to come up with some way to contribute.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


My old beat-up loaner chair from Mary Free Bed got a flat on Wednesday morning. I found this as I attempted to transfer from the bed into the wheelchair and the brake failed to hold. (The brake is a friction lock that sits against the inflated tire, so a deflated tire doesn't sit as high and therefore the brake provides zero friction) Luckily I was at Mary Free Bed, so I wheeled the broken chair to therapy hoping they could fix it for me. But, instead of fixing the loaner chair, they sent me home in a Breezy.

What is a Breezy you ask?

Breezy's are big, heavy, un-maneuverable beasts that take two living rooms to turn around in. A Breezy is the tandem trailer semi-truck of the wheelchair world. Hospitals use Breezy's as complimentary, visitor wheelchairs because they know that no one would ever even think of stealing one.

Luckily for me, UPS showed online that the Quickie Q7 demo wheelchair that I bought from New Jersey had been delivered. When I returned home in my Breezy, I quickly assembled my demo chair and transferred into it. I was just beginning to adjust to the chair when we realized that it had a flat. Another flat? To make matters worse, the valve stem is not a normal automotive/bike stem, it's a European thin valve designed for racing. Unfortunately my air compressor doesn't have that type of fitting.

Thursday morning, I called around and found that Cycle and Fitness in St. Joseph had the required adapter and could fill up my tire. The staff at Cycle and Fitness checked my tire and tube and filled both tires to the correct pressure. Cycle and Fitness keeps both tubes and tires in stock for all sizes of wheelchairs and they can repair or modify just about any part on the chair itself. I was definitely impressed by Cycle and Fitness.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


This has been infinitely more difficult than I imagined...

- Watching friends and family labor on the garage and ramp without being able to assist them. I find myself wishing I could just carry a package of shingles or climb onto the roof to help position drip edge. I would even settle for helping grade the sand on the floor before the cement is poured, but my wheels won't move in the deep sand. I'm constantly struggling to find a way to be useful.

- Receiving e-mails and notes from the Engineering meetings at work, knowing that the doctor hasn't released me back to work. I hear the engineering projects that I worked on turning into production products and I want so badly to jump in and help with the transition.

- Standing (OK sitting) by while my wife takes care of the kids, grandpa, and now my needs. I struggle with the fact that I need help doing the simplest of tasks.

- Being driven around by my wife and having to wait while she assembles my wheelchair at each and every stop. I'm not a patient person, nor do I like having to be carted around.

I've got to be honest, this being restricted is not in my DNA and it's really begun to affect me.

Those of you that know me, know that I am not one to sit by and accept this as my fate. I'm already working out solutions for the challenges that I have run into so far.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

T minus 3 days...

I'm told that Friday September 30th will be my discharge date from Mary Free Bed. While I should have nothing but pure excitement running through my head, I also have apprehension and fear. Apprehension and fear about going home? I know your saying... That's crazy right? The fact is I've had trouble sleeping every night since learning of my discharge date as my mind runs through the transition. At the heart of this is the fact that I've been away from home for nearly 5 months. It's almost like the mental transition that a kidnapped person goes through as they are freed from their confines. Everything that they have become accustomed to is changing. (Maybe not the best analogy, but you know what I mean)

I am more than capable of being 100% independent here at the rehab hospital, but what about in a "non controlled" environment like home. Will I be able to get out of a normal bed, one that's not designed for ease of movement? Can I function in my home as I have done here in the rehab hospital? Will I remember to get up at my scheduled hours and perform the critical tasks? Have I learned enough in 5 weeks to make me independent?

My family has proven through the last 5 months that they are more than capable of daily life without me. My wife and mother-in-law have truly risen to the occasion. (I don't think everybody knows this, but my mother-in-law, Darlene moved into our house and voluntarily took on the role of mother and father to the kids while Angie and I dealt with the accident. For 5 months she put her life on hold for us. Pretty amazing huh? Thanks Mom.) I know that things will not magically return to the way they were before the accident... Am I and are we as a family prepared for those changes? What changes will there be?

My goal is to return home as independent as possible and return to my duties as a father and a husband. I also hope to relieve my wife and mother-in-law of the responsibility that they have assumed through the last 5 months.

Even with all of these unknowns, I know that everything will work out because my wife, my family and my friends are 100% behind me. Thank you everyone for your support.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Stairs

One hurdle of accessibility in the house was going to be the stairs to the basement. We recognized the problem when Grandpa moved in with us. It was very difficult and took a few people to get him upstairs. We would roll him up the back hill, around to the front of the house, and lift him up the 3 stairs into the main level. This worked OK until it was raining or there was snow on the ground. (Eric and I slipped in the mud once and almost lost him down the back hill one night)

Last Friday, my therapists took me home and did my home evaluation. As expected, they confirmed the need for a stairlift of some type for safe transport to both levels. I researched lifts over the weekend and found that the least expensive units cost around $2000 plus installation. With our current financial situation a lift would have to wait until I could get back to work in order to pay for it.

Monday morning, both my occupational therapist and my physical therapist ran into my room with a printed e-mail. A previous patient of Mary Free Bed had an adjustable stairlift that she wanted to donate to anyone who needed one. Angie called that morning and the lift is ours. Her son is removing the lift and we can pick it up as soon as it's out. 

From the moment of my accident, its been very obvious that someone was watching over me and providing everything that I needed. This ordeal has reaffirmed our families trust in God. I truly believe that he understood our financial situation and therefore made that lift available to us. He knew that it was the last piece needed in order to complete the home transformation. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Accident

I've often been asked if I remember the accident...

Many people know how dedicated I was to riding my motorcycle. Rain or shine, warm or cold, I was enjoying the wonderful feeling of riding. Depending on who you talk to, I might of been on the verge of obsessive.

Anyway, here is the story for those of you who haven't heard it.

April 10th, 2011 it was 34 degrees at 6:45am when I jumped on the bike to head to work. The forecast called for mid 50's by the afternoon so I expected a nice ride home. I had an uneventful ride until just before North Liberty on state road 23. All of a sudden, out of nowhere I see a truck in my lane headed right for me. I slammed on the brakes and veered to the right. (As the large skid mark left in the pavement confirmed) The further I traveled into the edge of the roadway, and then into someone's front yard, the truck continued to aim right for me. I couldn't seem to get away no matter how far I tried.

I remember the impact... I don't recall much pain, but I remember hearing a small sound like a twig breaking. (I assume that this sound was my spinal cord being severed) I remember flying through the air and landing in someone's front yard. I landed face down. The face shield was torn from my helmet and could feel grass rubbing my nose and face. (I thought to myself that the owner of this yard could have at least cut the grass a little shorter) I knew from my medical training that I should stay completely still until a cervical collar and backboard could be applied. A wonderful lady touched my shoulder and asked me if I was OK. I answered YES... Looking back that was a really dumb way to answer her... I was just hit head on by a 9000 pound truck doing 65+ mph... And I answer that I'm OK?

The second person to come to my side asked if she could call anyone for me. I hadn't thought of that and asked her to call Angie and I gave her the phone number. She asked for the phone number multiple times, evidently seeing me face down with bones protruding through my skin distracted her. I gave her the number one last time and explained to her that I was going to stop breathing soon. The people around me old me that help was on the way and to just hold on. I felt the last breath exhale and heard sirens in the distance. The rest is black and cold.

Here is a link to the news report:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Discharge Date

My rehabilitation team meets every other week to discuss my progress and estimate my discharge date. This is a cross functional team that includes my physician, therapists, psychologist, and social worker. They each report on my progress and discuss what goals they would like me to accomplish before I'm discharged. This team approach to care ensures that each discipline is allowed to discuss the challenges and report on the goals as they see them. The goal of the team is keep me as an inpatient long enough to teach me all of the skills that will be necessary for me to be self sufficient for the rest of my life. Being self sufficient will allow me to return home and not be a burden on my family. Once discharged, I will still come back for therapy as an outpatient and continue learning additional skills.

The result of the meeting this week is that I will be discharged in 2-3 weeks.

On one hand, I can't wait to get home to my family, but on the other hand, I don't want to go home until I am as self sufficient as possible so that I don't become a burden to them. In the macro view, 2-3 additional weeks is just a small percentage of the time this entire ordeal has lasted.


On Tuesday, Angie, the kids, and I went to the Grand Rapids children's museum. Mary Free Bed conducts outings in public places so that we can begin to feel comfortable in a wheelchair around other people. It is a major change to have to watch for high curbs, find alternate routes around tight areas, and look for elevators.

We all had a great time and can't wait for another opportunity.

Monday, September 12, 2011


When we look for someone to share our lives with, we look at many qualities in these people. We look at their morals, their capacity to love, and their spirituality to name just a few. One quality that should not be overlooked is Strength. Not strength as in physical strength, but strength as an individual. Webster defines this type of strength as: one regarded as embodying or affording force or firmness. This type of strength is what keeps a person from giving up in adversity.

The strongest person that I have ever met is my wife.

Never once has she made me feel even 1% responsible for this, never once has her support even wavered, and never once has she not been there for me. From the moment that the Dr. informed us that I would be paralyzed, she has been there pulling for me. After hearing this life changing diagnosis, I didn't even have a chance to feel sorry for myself, my wife stood by my side and told me that we could do this.

When I've needed to cry, she has been there with a shoulder; when I've needed a push to keep going, she has been the drill sargent; and when I've thought I couldn't go any father, she has been my rock.

We have cried together and prayed together. I could not imagine going through this without her love and support. I love you so much Angie.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wheelchair Sports

Prior to my accident I was vaguely aware that there were wheelchair sports. I envisioned slow moving older people in wheelchairs and rules that were completely changed to make it easier to accomplish in a wheelchair.

Boy was I wrong...

Thursday night I attended one of the weekly practices held by the tennis division of the Grand Rapids Wheelchair Sports Association. These players are true athletes armed with amazing chairs that enable them to play as fast as any tennis player I've ever seen. They welcomed me to their practice and gave me a sports chair to use during the practice.

Make no mistake, these wheelchairs are designed for speed and turning. One grab of the left rail at speed causes a 7G turn that causes a small blackout and neck snapping turn. Once your brain catches up with your bodies new location, you have to look across the net, push as hard as possible, and be ready for the next volley. The athletes that use these chairs are in exceptional shape and would give any able bodied tennis player a run for their money.

Each of the players introduced themselves and included me just like I was one of the regular team members. I was impressed with the players and coaches of the GRWSA and I hope to return to another practice at a later date.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I've had a few people tell me that I'm just too positive in this blog...

Do they want to hear that I can still hear the sound of my spine being severed during the nightmares I have?
That I have no feeling or mobility below my ribcage and never will?
Do they want to hear that I have very little feeling my hands and fingers?
That I've completely missed the last 3 months of my children growing up?
Due to my injuries, for the rest of my life, I'll have to insert a long tube into my bladder every four hours to urinate?
That I no longer have the ability to father anymore children?
That I'll never again get the thrill of running into a burning building?
That due to Michigan insurance loophole my accident wasn't covered and I'll receive no compensation?

No, I have not always been so positive and this ordeal really sucks...

But, I've had time to come to terms with my injuries. I understand that God has a plan for me and that he saved me to accomplish this goal. I trust in him to guide me on this new path in life.

Pool Therapy

For the last 3 months, these anchors that I used to call legs have been a heavy burden for every movement I have attempted. Legs in the wrong location or pointed the wrong way can stop me from the movement I'm trying to accomplish. Getting dressed requires lifting each foot and leg while threading the clothing onto my lifeless bottom half. I often think how wonderful it would be to take the weight and non movement of my legs out of the equation for just a short time.

The solution:

The therapists load me into a mesh chair attached to a crane in the ceiling and I am lifted above the side of the pool. They slowly lower me into the pool and I loose the weight of the anchors. My legs become weightless and I'm floating. For the 1st time since the accident, I don't have these anchors holding me back. Therapy takes me through some simple swim strokes and then let's me float around. Next, therapy holds me by the shoulders and slowly pulls my body around 180 degrees and then returns at the same speed. As the water rushes along my body, I become so relaxed. This continues until the time is up on my session and I'm removed from the water by the same mesh chair and crane.

Getting back into my wheelchair, my anchors reappear and I'm reminded again of reality...

Until my next pool therapy

(Stock Photo from Mary Free Bed Website: Not me)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Definition: a person's perspective toward a specified target and way of saying and doing things.

I had a conversation the other day with a lady here who has similar injuries as myself (T-9 Complete SCI) and she commented how I always had such a good attitude. During our 15 minute conversation she told me no less than 50 things that she couldn't ever do again. In my mind, many of the things she mentioned could still be accomplished, maybe not exactly as it was done before, but could still be done. She had a negative attitude and was letting the disability win.

I explained to her that I didn't have time to dwell on the bad parts. I know that I'm alive because of the grace of God; and I'm not going to let him or my family down. I don't think either of them would be proud of me laying down and playing dead to this setback. I'm going to get back to my life as quickly as I can because I have people counting on me. Having an SCI doesn't release me from my responsibilities as a father or a husband.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Take the stairs

You know, before my accident I never really appreciated elevators or automatic doors. (They were a kind of convenience, you know like when a fast food restaurant puts salt and pepper packets in your bag in the drive-thru. You could have gone without them, but it's nice that someone put them there.) When I had the use of my legs, I still had another option, I could always take the stairs. On rare occasions I did take the stairs, but not very often.

I have a new understanding of elevators and automatic doors now. They are essential and allow me to move throughout a buildings many levels. Without an elevator, I am now unable to get to the next floor. Without automatic doors, I have to try to keep the wheelchair stopped, while pulling on a door that opens outward. (A task that I am told that I will unfortunately get better at.)

I didn't understand what these "conveniences" meant to people that had no other option.

I wish now, that I would have taken the stairs more often.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


There is not much better than having people you love come see you. My Mom and Dad flew in on Tuesday from California to see me and check out the rehab center. They have attended some of my OT and PT sessions these last few days and have gotten to experience my progress. I have even caught my Mom holding her breath for me as I'm pushing hard trying to sit up or move my legs into position. (Thanks Mom)

Angie and the kids also came up today and will be staying a few days. It's really wonderful to see everyone together. We took a long walk on the grounds here and everyone played in the grass for an hour or so. Seeing Mom with the kids really makes me happy. I know that she doesn't get to see the kids as much as she would like, but the time that she does get to spend with them is magic.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I was informed today that I will be having an EMG on my left shoulder and upper back later this week. Since I didn't know anything about the procedure, I researched it... I shouldn't have.

Electromyography, or EMG, involves testing the electrical activity of muscles. Often, EMG testing is performed with another test that measures the conducting function of nerves. This is called a nerve conduction study. Muscular movement involves the action of muscles and nerves and needs an electrical current.

During EMG, small pins or needles are inserted into muscles to measure electrical activity. The needles are different than needles used for injection of medications. They are small and solid, not hollow like hypodermic needles. Because no medication is injected, discomfort is much less than with shots. You typically will experience a mild and brief tingling or shock, which may be a bit unpleasant.

Needles, electricity, and mild shock... Sign me up!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 5

Drive - By Definition "To move along or advance quickly as if pushed by an impelling force"

At this point in my life, my impelling force is to get back home to my wonderful family. Nothing is or has been ever more important to me. Every set of weights, every therapist bend of my joints, every step of my therapy I have one consistent drive...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 4

Everyday, the schedule of therapies changes and your daily schedule comes with your breakfast. For the most part, my mornings are pretty light with the bulk of the work being right after lunch. When I'm done with my afternoon work, I'm ready for dinner and bed as soon as possible.

My schedule for today included heavy OT and PT. I transferred from chair to mat to chair to mat to chair to mat. Between transfers, heavy sessions of stretching and using muscles that I didn't know existed.

Today, my OT therapist says "It's nice outside, why don't we go outside today". I'm thinking, sure it's a beautiful day, we can wheel outside and sit in the sun. WRONG! OT outside means we will be going for a 1/2 mile long walk/roll uphill both ways to see what kind of stamina I have built up. (Built up since when? The 4 days that I've been here?)

I asked my nurse to take a picture so that I could show my wheelchair in the blog. As you can tell from the photo, she picked a good profession and should not try photography.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Acts of Kindness

I have witnessed amazing acts of love and caring throughout this entire ordeal. From the support of my wonderful family, the acts of kindness from complete strangers, and the amazing love and support from my beautiful wife. I could not have made it this far without everyone's love and support.

Angie and I were eating dinner last night in the common room and I noticed a couple just a few tables away from us. A young woman was carefully feeding her husband with a spoon. He was in a powered wheelchair and looked to have some type of brain injury in addition to his physical issues. Seeing this, certainly made me thankful that my injuries were not as severe and that I didn't sustain a brain injury. It was very obvious that she loved him unconditionally and was going to be there for him no-matter what.

What made me smile... is that I know... if I was in that same physical and mental situation... my wife... would be here just the same for me. Now that's true love.

Angie, I Love You So Much!


For the last month or so, since I haven't been allowed to weight bear on my arms, I have been using a powered scooter at the nursing home. While this allowed me to be mobile, I didn't like the idea of using a "old persons hover-around" at 37 years old. During my first day of therapy here at Mary Free Bed, the therapist measured me and put me into a lightweight Ti Wheelchair. Whoo Hooo! I'm in a chair that doesn't make me look 80!
It's now been 3 days in a manual chair and while I am sore from pushing, I feel more free than I did before. I haven't pushed myself 100% of the time, Angie has been there when I get tired and helped get me around.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mary Free Bed

Prequel: On May 10, 2011 I was involved in a motorcycle accident. I was traveling on a 2 lane highway when a driver in the oncoming lane attempted to pass a semi-truck. The driver swerved into my lane and we collided head-on. I fractured both of my arms, both of my wrists, my sternum, my pelvis in multiple areas. I also completely severed my spine at T-12. I spent a week in Memorial Hospital Intensive Care, 4 weeks in the main hospital, and 8 weeks in a nursing home.

Present Day: After 3 months of hospitals and nursing homes, I've finally made it to Mary Free Bed. My doctor finally cleared me to weight bear on both of my arm. In my first day here, I have learned more and progressed further than in anytime since the accident. The doctors, nurses, and therapists here are wonderful!
I have multiple therapy sessions 7 days a week.