“He’s our hero.” This is the first thing JJ’s mom, Eleanor, says as we sit down to hear JJ’s story. During our conversation, I understand her sentiment completely.
JJ truly is a hero among us.
JJ suffered a complete spinal cord injury (SCI) in January 2007, resulting in a level C2 injury. This injury eventually improved to a level C3 injury.
Today, JJ lives a full life at home surrounded by his friends, family, and trusted nurses. He enjoys riding to the beach, interacting with nature, and visiting with people. (He has a sense of humor you wouldn’t believe!)
“I am what I am. That’s all that I am,” JJ declares.
JJ is always looking for his next project, whether it’s rehabbing his house to make it wheelchair accessible, purchasing a wheelchair van, or mastering his communication device, which allows him seamless access to the internet.
In true JJ form, he was the first person in Illinois to receive a diaphragmatic pacemaker, a surgically implanted device that allows him to decrease his dependence on a ventilator and increase his independence and freedom. The device works by providing a rhythmic, electrical stimulation to the diaphragm muscle, causing it to contract, which allows JJ to breathe without a ventilator while he is awake.
A Special Bond with RIC
JJ spent more than one year at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) after his surgery. While at RIC, JJ accepted the informal role of patient ambassador – a title he came up with himself! Every day during his stay, he visited with his fellow SCI-rehab patients, making friends and spreading hope to those in need.
At RIC, JJ learned how to be an expert in his own care. “I call the shots,” explains JJ.
One year and nine days later, JJ was ready to go home.
“What I see in you is acceptance,” Eleanor says directly to JJ. “JJ accepted easier than I did,” she remembers.
“And strength,” says Mike Bieber, RN, JJ’s nurse for almost three years.
“You betcha,” JJ agrees.
JJ views his life as one of endless opportunities.
“I can go anywhere,” he says.
During JJ’s daily rides to the beach where he performs his daily exercises, he and Mike spend a lot of time at nearby constructions sites. Before JJ’s accident, he was a carpenter. His appreciation for architecture and carpentry goes deep—and he spends many hours watching the progress at local construction sites.
JJ is also often seen at the Chicago White Sox games cheering on his favorite team!
Passion for People
JJ loves spending time with his family and friends. When he can’t visit in person, he uses the internet to keep in touch.
“Wake up,” JJ speaks clearly into his wireless microphone. “Open Yahoo!”
His computer turns on and opens up a web browser with Yahoo! featured on the homepage.
“If I didn’t learn how to use a computer, I’d go insane,” he says.
JJ uses a wireless microphone with speech recognition called Dragon. It is synced up to his computer and television, and allows him to access both devices without any limitations.
JJ mastered this skill much like he has with everything else in his life – with perseverance and ease.
When JJ was injured, one of his respiratory therapists told him: “You’re going to touch many people’s lives – and probably more than if this never happened.”
Sitting across from JJ as he and Eleanor share their stories, it is clear that JJ impacted many lives since his accident.