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My Son’s Spinal Cord Injury
Dale Hahn, 50, tells writer Rachel Powers about family, sacrifice, and the decision to care for his son after a life-altering accident.
I was in the stands two years ago when the play occurred. At Santa Ana’s Mater Dei High my son had been a star pitcher, but it’s almost unheard of for a freshman to be a starting player at Arizona State University. So I had driven to Tempe to cheer Cory on. It was the third game of the season and we were pretty excited. Cory dived headfirst into second base and slammed into an opposing player. And that was it. I knew something wasn’t right; normally he would’ve gotten up and gone to third with the overthrow. I was sitting on the left-field line, and the assistant coach motioned for me to come over. When I got there, the paramedics were checking him; he had no feeling from his neck down. I was hoping it was what they refer to as a “stinger,” something like a spinal cord shock. It wasn’t. He had fractured his spine.
We had nine days in the ICU in Arizona, and we returned to Orange County so he could start inpatient rehab. Cory began to see the extent of his injuries: He couldn’t hold anything or pick anything up. He couldn’t move. That’s when we as a family decided I would be his caregiver.
A year later, Cory insisted on going back to school in Arizona. I decided to leave my Orange County sales job and move out there with him until he graduates with a degree in business.
Today, the family is spread out all over the place. My wife is at our house in Corona, our youngest son is a freshman at the University of Colorado, and Cory and I are back in Tempe for his junior year. He lives with roommates and I have my own apartment. I’m not complaining. I can be alone. But do I miss my wife? Absolutely. Could we throw our hands up and say, “We’re just going to have caregivers take care of you, Cory, and that’s the way it is”? That’s just not the way we are. I didn’t make a heroic decision. It’s just the decision that had to be made.
I was apprehensive about him going back to Arizona, but it turned out to be a blessing, and he has succeeded. He’s with kids again! And driving a customized car! Now that scared the heck out of me. The doctors told him he would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life, but he didn’t accept that. He has learned to use his arms again, but he wants to do more. His outlook just floors me.
I do get mad sometimes, and I do get down. But when you start a family, you buy in. And I’m buying in. He’s a great kid. Sure, we have our moments, as dads and sons always do, but I love being around him, and it’s always neat to see his face.
Routines work for me. I usually arrive at his house around 8:15 to get him up. Then we shower him, dress him, get him back into the chair, and take off for class. Then I run errands, pick up groceries, medical supplies, and prescriptions. We meet around 12:30 and have lunch. We go to therapy every other day and he’ll lift weights. We’ll have dinner later on, or he’ll go out with friends. I go back to my apartment and talk to people on the phone. I’m back at his house around 11:30 and get him ready for bed, get him his medications, chat a little, and then I head back to my apartment to sleep.
Cory sustains me through all of this. Sometimes after I drop him off, I’ll watch him make his way across campus. I’ll be a hundred yards away, just sitting on a bench. I’m surrounded by kids on skateboards, or bicycles, or running, and they’re getting where they have to go in a hurry. And then I see Cory in the distance, chugging along in his chair, and that inspires the heck out of me. I watch him fight every day, so I’m going to fight with him.