- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) - Grant Turner thinks often about the day he became paralyzed. It was a year ago July 4 while he was at Lake Success near Porterville, California, with his wife. Turner wanted one last dive into the water before heading to shore.

The fateful dive was cut short when Turner struck a sandbar in the middle of the lake. He remembers hitting the sandbar headfirst. His body went numb, and he felt helpless as his lungs filled with lake water.

The impact crushed one of Grant’s vertebrate and damaged a second. He was paralyzed from the neck down, reported The Daily News (https://bit.ly/2aPDZ47).

“It’s hard not to think about it,” he said recently from the front porch of his Puget Island home. His wife, Ashley, sat nearby, her fingers laced through his. At the time of the accident, the couple, both 26, had been married only a year. Grant now wears his tungsten wedding ring on a chain around his neck.

“The hardest part is just having to rely on someone else, and you can’t do anything on your own. I think the hardest part is having to ask for help,” he said.

On the day of the accident, the couple had been jumping off the boat with friends for hours. Because of a drought that summer, the lake was lower than usual, but Ashley said they had tested the depth of the water many times. She suspects the boat drifted for some time before Grant’s final dive.

Now, Ashley is Grant’s full-time caregiver. She says they are a team. She’s also the one who stabilized Grant after his dive, putting her years of lifeguard training to use.

“I think my adrenaline kicked in,” she said. That day, she used a table from a nearby houseboat as a backboard for Grant. She and others then took him to shore, where a LifeFlight helicopter took him to a nearby hospital.

“I didn’t really stop to think,” she added.

The next few months of Grant’s recovery were marked by medical procedures, physical therapy and finding ways to cope with his injury.

Some things have changed since Grant’s accident. Mostly, though, the couple said their life is just as it once was.

The couple’s playful black Labrador, Stewie, doesn’t notice the electric chair Grant uses to maneuver around their one-story home. Sometimes, Stewie jumps up on Grant’s lap. Other times, he gets caught beneath the chair, unwilling to move until someone tosses him a toy.

Grant’s friends are the same in that they don’t see his injury as a barrier either, Ashley said. Grant recently went to a bachelor party. He regularly joins them for golf outings, where he messes around on the green while his friends work on their swings.

“My buddies will just come by,” Grant said. “They’ll pick me up and take me out.”

Ashley laughed.

“Sometimes I’ll come home and he’s not even here.”

‘Doctors were not very optimistic’

Grant doesn’t remember the four weeks following his injury. His last memory is being airlifted to the hospital. From that point, he said, he was heavily sedated.

The night of his injury, surgeons placed a cage in Grant’s back to connect his vertebrae. He had shattered his C4 and damaged the sixth. He couldn’t speak, eat or breathe on his own.

“The doctors were not very optimistic,” Grant said.

“We’ve had multiple surgeons tell us that it was the most severe spinal cord (injury) they’d ever seen,” Ashley added. “They’d never seen a shatter as bad and have someone survive, so that was a little scary to hear over and over again.”

Doctors didn’t think he’d speak again or breathe without the help of a ventilator. They were skeptical that he would ever be able to go home.

But Grant has come a long way since his accident. He regained his speech after his ventilator was removed. His first words were on August 31, more than a month after his accident, on his and Ashley’s second wedding anniversary. Doctors at Regional Hospital in Burien inserted a speaking valve to help him talk.

“I woke up to him telling me happy anniversary,” she said. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in that whole hospital.”

Sitting on his porch this summer, Grant spoke effortlessly. He demonstrated the movement he’s regained in his upper body - he can lift his left arm almost to his face and shrug his shoulders. In a few months, he’ll have surgery to remove hardware that fuses his skull to his mid-back. It’ll allow him to regain movement in his neck.

He appeared upbeat when talking about his injury, even when detailing the ways it’s altered his life - the good and the bad.

“There’s definitely down days … but it could always be so much worse,” he said.

A new normal

Every morning, Ashley and Grant spend about four hours preparing for the day. Ashley uses a metal lift and blue sling to hoist Grant from the bed. Anything Grant needs - from showering to dressing - Ashley does.

Their one-story home has been altered to accommodate Grant’s electric chair. A wall in the bedroom was knocked down to create space, a kitchen island was removed and a walk-in closet was converted to a walk-in shower.

Grant opens his front door using a heat sensor attached to the wall. Outside, a ramp wraps around the front deck. Hardwood floors have been installed inside the home, much to the dismay of Ashley’s 14-year-old dog, Wendy, who prefers the carpet.

Grant controls his wheelchair and cellphone by inhaling and exhaling into a tube near his mouth. Twice a week, Grant and Ashley head to Portland for therapy, where he continues to strengthen his left arm.

Ashley said spending so much time together can be taxing, and the couple needs their time apart. But she added she doesn’t take a moment with her husband for granted.

“It’s definitely quite the hurdle, but when you marry someone it’s for better or worse, in sickness and health,” Ashley said. “‘For worse’ came a little earlier than it does in most people’s marriage, but, I don’t know, it definitely hasn’t weakened it.”

At some point, Ashley and Grant want to return to their careers. Before the accident, Ashley worked as the membership director at the YMCA of Southwest Washington. Grant was a pipe fitter and welder at Foss Maritime Company.

“We both went to college, and we both had careers at a very young age, so it’s been hard for us to both kind of to be at home,” she said. “We’ve worked ever since we possibly could, so I would love to get back to a career.”

After Grant’s next surgery, Ashley said more options will be available to him. Grant is considering college, though he’s not certain what he’ll study. For now, Ashley is Grant’s full-time caregiver. She isn’t paid for the work, though, because the state of Washington doesn’t pay spouses to be caregivers. She said they’ve talked to senators about changing the laws, but lawmakers have only suggested that they get a divorce.

Ashley and Grant don’t see that as an option.

“Our marriage means something to us, and we feel if they’re asking us to work around the system, then maybe we need to take a look at the system.”

In the meantime, Ashley said they stay afloat through help from their family, Grant’s disability payments and their savings.

Ashley said the community also pitches in. Some days, they return home to freshly baked muffins sitting by the front door. Other days, they discover an anonymous donor paid their PUD bill.

Outside of those struggles, though, Ashley says their lives haven’t changed much.

Their morning routine takes longer and doctor visits are far more frequent, but most things have remained the same. Their wedding picture still hangs above the dog bed in their bedroom. Grant has the same easy-going demeanor. They talk about someday having kids.

“On an everyday basis, we don’t see hurdles,” Ashley said, rubbing Grant’s hand.

“They’re there,” Grant said calmly. “But you just don’t really recognize them. I guess you don’t see them as hurdles. It’s just the way it is now.”


Information from: The Daily News, https://www.tdn.com

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