By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
So taken up by their moving story, I'm devoting the next two weeks to Joe and Tish Griffin, 21-year-old son and 60-year-old mother, of Destin, Florida.
In a telephone interview, Tish said, “In 1998, Joe was sitting on the bed with my two daughters watching The Mighty Ducks on Disney Channel. Joe was 2. He fell ten inches off the side of the bed and onto the carpet. He got up and walked, but his left arm wasn't working. The girls got me. We took Joe to the hospital, thinking he had broken his collar bone or arm.”
Doctors in Fort Walton Beach realized Joe had a spinal cord injury and hurried him off via ambulance to a larger hospital in Pensacola.
“It was a whirlwind, life-changing moment,” said Tish. “I felt God was taking care of everything, but had great concern about what was happening. Within 24 hours, Joe became paralyzed from the neck down. Nine days later, he had a tracheotomy and a ventilator. From then on, the dynamic changed for all the personal goals I had for myself and my family. The goal, suddenly, was just keeping Joe alive. In 1998, he was given six months to one year to live. I'd be his primary caregiver 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the next 15 years.”
Joe is now 21. He still has a tracheotomy and ventilator, but did regain feeling from the shoulders up and some in his legs and torso.
He's also a dorm resident and majors in communications at University of West Florida, where he gets around to classes using a power wheelchair. He has nurses stopping by his dorm room to help him. He's also engaged to marry a lady named Des, who has her own health issues.
Tish said, “It's adorable when you see them together. I always thought Joe would have a full life and go to college. He shouldn't be able to speak because of the ventilator and tracheotomy, but has been able to nearly the whole time with it. Now he talks about as loud as I do. In the sixth year of his injury, doctors said it was remarkable because most people on ventilators decline health-wise after a while. But Joe improved. He has really overcome a lot.”
Next week, read how caring for Joe prepared Tish for her current position serving people with dementia in assisted living facilities.
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