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Meet Michael

The injury Michael is referring to happened in 1989, when he was 31 years old. He was ringing in the New Year with his sister and some friends at a nightclub in Washington, DC. Just before midnight, a sound reverberated through the nightclub.  At first, Michael said that it sounded like firecrackers. He began scanning the club for his sister, while people rushed passed him trying to exit the nightclub. During the chaos, Michael fell to the ground. “I thought someone knocked me over, but then I couldn’t get up,” he said. “I just put myself in the fetal position and waited.” Michael was bleeding from a gunshot wound and eventually passed out. The next thing Michael remembers is waking up in the hospital. The bullet entered Michael’s back and went across his spine to the front of his body. As a result, Michael is paralyzed from the waist down.

The 27 years since Michael’s injury have been filled with highs and lows. He spent many months in the hospital and then a rehabilitation facility. Ten years later, Michael got an infection that went into his blood and bones. He was hospitalized for several days and then discharged to a nursing home. He knew he didn’t want to be in a nursing home forever. “I wanted my independence and to do the things that I was doing before,” he said. “My kids were young at the time and I wanted to see them play sports.”

In 2005, Michael enrolled in the Living at Home Waiver Program (currently the Community Options Waiver Program) and began working with The Coordinating Center. Knowing that his ultimate goal was to leave the nursing home and live in his own home, his coordinator, Racine, helped him locate, secure and move into his own home in Montgomery County.“Racine has been such a positive person and I consider her family,” he said. “She is always there, willing to listen, provide resources and push me forward when I need it.”

The infection Michael had in 2001 taught him a valuable lesson. “I now understand the importance of taking care of myself and following up with my doctors,” he said. Racine has helped Michael identify warning signs that might put him back in the hospital if he doesn’t take action. “When I see something that is concerning and could potentially put me back in a place I don’t want to be, I make a doctor’s appointment and get checked out.”

While in the nursing home, Michael used his free time to learn new things and develop hobbies that he still enjoys doing today. In addition to making jewelry, Michael enjoys decorating cell phone covers and board game boards. He has also given back by speaking for ThinkFirst, an organization that provides education about spinal cord injuries and by volunteering at nursing homes. Looking toward the future, Michael wants to take a class to become a mediator for a conflict resolution organization and hopes to get a wheelchair that he can use to play wheelchair basketball at his local recreation center.

Through his volunteering, Michael became close friends with a woman who has quadriplegia. Their friendship has had a huge impact on Michael’s life and helps shape his positive outlook on life. “I look at all the things she can do and I know I have nothing to complain about,” he said. “Life is good and I can do anything I want to do.”