Like several of his classmates getting ready to graduate in June, John Demcovici ponders what tux to wear to the prom, works through his classes this final semester, and waits patiently for his college admission letters.
However, for John, all of those milestones will be done from a wheelchair, and the first real hurdle of the spring will be getting through the anniversary day of the accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down.
On an ordinary March afternoon, St. Patrick’s day, one year ago, John sustained an injury to his spinal cord in his neck while just goofing around with his friends on the back of a pickup truck right in front of his house.
It was seconds. Seconds that changed the course of his life forever and according to John, “Caused me to miss out on my teenage years, and grow up really fast.”
Engaging, honest, and fiercely intellectual, John is not an ordinary teen, and not just because of his limited mobility. He’s wise beyond his years, full of introspection and maturity more often found in adults with more life experience.
John was candid and willing to share his story so that others can understand how his life has changed, how he is working to overcome a life altering disability, and how thankful he is to everyone that helped him over the past year.
Able to move his head up and down, and from side to side, John can also feel sensation around his shoulders and collar bone. Even with just this slight ability to move, technology allows John to have some independence in his life through the use of adaptive devices for his wheelchair and computer. However, his sadness is evident in his voice when he says, “I really do miss the ability to do things with my friends. I am missing out on just being a teen, and that is hard.”
After many months in Shepherd Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta, GA following the accident, the day John returned home to Holly Springs, he was placed on a hospital bed in the family dining room. He was immobile, but full of smiles and jokes to put all his friends that came to welcome him home at ease. His ability to light up a room remained. After a year, and still adjusting to his situation John says, “It is what it is, nothing I can do about it. Being depressed isn’t going to help. At times I do get sad, when I sit around and think about things, but I try not to.”
Aside from getting settled back into his home, one of John’s main goals throughout the summer was to get himself ready to go back to school. “I wanted to go back into the classroom for the social part of it. I didn’t want to just stay home and in my room all the time.”
According to Meri, John’s mom, “He had enough credits to graduate school a semester early, but he wanted to be with his friends, and return to that daily normal routine.”
With the aid of a nurse that provides 18 hours of care a day, John was able to return to the classroom, achieving one of the first goals he placed on his new life. Regina, one of the nurses that has accompanied John to school, says, “He is really smart. He won first place in his honors physics class for a project and it was so far above my head, yet for him, it was just fun. He has quite a brain and somewhere down the line, someone is going to pay him a lot of money to solve problems with that brain.”
John’s daily routine begins with that hectic six a.m. wake up to get ready for school. His aide bathes, feeds, dresses him, gives him his medications (he takes medications four times a day) and with the help of a lift, gets him out of bed into his wheelchair. John can control his wheelchair through the use of a ‘puff and sip’ straw. He is then fed his breakfast, has his teeth brushed and is loaded into the van that was donated to the family shortly after John returned home from the hospital.
“When I first went back to school,” John recalls, “I could see that some kids were in awe. I was just glad to be back into a normal routine.”
With academics not being an issue for John, he did find some of the social aspects of returning to high school to be a challenge. “Before my accident, I was well aware of all the high school BS that goes on. After the accident, my perspective on a lot of that changed. When I hear kids complain about their friends, or their job, or how hard school is, I think to myself, all of that just does not matter. In a year their complaints will not matter. In a year, I will still be in the same situation, missing out on what they get to do. I see now how good they have it, and how they don’t understand that.”
Another goal John was shooting for was to be able to breathe on his own without the aid of a ventilator. The accident left his diaphragm paralyzed and without that muscle, his lungs couldn’t get the air they needed. After a lengthy battle with insurance, the surgery was finally approved and a few months ago, John received a device called a diaphragmatic breathing pacemaker. This device sends impulses to the diaphragm muscle to contract and release allowing the diaphragm to do the work it was designed to do to allow a person to breathe. In a video clip he placed on his Facebook page, he showed his new look off to his friends and quipped as he was able to move his head all around unencumbered by the vent: “Look, no more tubes.” COMMAND CENTRAL
Through the generosity of many community members and volunteers, John’s garage was converted into an accessible space to fit his needs. Aside from having a wheelchair accessible room, shower/bathroom facility and screened in porch, John’s “command central” is set up in there and provides him with a way to communicate with his friends and family. Through voice activated computer programs, John is able to use social media to keep up with friends, and he can even turn lights, fans, and the radio in the living room on through a program on the computer located in his room. “When John turns on the radio, that’s my signal he needs something in his room,” explains Meri.
These technological additions have helped John with the one thing he truly misses the most. “I don’t mind not being able to breathe or move,” he says, “it’s not being independent that sucks the most.” INTO THE FUTURE
Adjusting to a life that leaves you motionless, is not something one gets used to and John freely admits, “I have way too much time to just be with my thoughts. It’s the thinking time that makes you feel the loneliness.”
A very outgoing and social person, John does miss all of the company that flocked to their home immediately after the accident. “My friends come by, but not as often as they did that summer. I like talking to people and I don’t mind talking about my accident or what I am going through.”
It’s this outgoing nature, and unfiltered honesty that pushes John forward. He’s already been accepted to UNC-Charlotte and is waiting to hear from UNC-Chapel Hill. A very gifted artist and writer, he left his major undeclared on his applications. “I don’t know what I want to do yet, but I know I want to go to college and experience it. I know I like public speaking, and I like solving problems. I am looking forward to college.”
How will the logistics of going to college work? “I don’t know, but we are going to make it happen,” John says.
His nurse speaks up, “John has managed his situation better than anyone else I have attended to. He’s not grumpy or mad at the world, he’s capable, and as far as college, it’s going to work. Yes, we’re going to make it happen.”
READY TO ROLL
One of John’s biggest regrets over the past year was not being able to be at the first annual Jog 4 John race the community came together to sponsor to help raise funds for his ever mounting medical expenses. “I was down at Shepherd and when I heard how many people signed up to run for me, I couldn’t believe it.” This May, he’s not going to let the race go on without him. He’s planning to accompany the runners at this year’s May 1st event and go the distance. “I want to be out there. I am looking forward to seeing everyone that has helped me out.”
Although the anniversary of his accident will be a very difficult to get through, John knows the possibilities waiting for him beyond that day and he says with confidence, “I feel like I can do a lot.”
by Christine Dickson Apex Herald