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Boys to Men: Damien’s Journey

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Boys-to-Men.-Photography-by-Andrew-Campbell-6“I jumped off the back of a boat, my chin hit the water in a weird way, and I dislocated my spine, the C4 and C5. The instant I hit the water my body just stopped working. I was looking face down at the bottom of the lake and I just couldn’t move.“

Dreams of one day surfing in Bali were dashed by a simple accident. An old friend inadvertently untwists this fate and convinces Damien that a mystical Javanese healer can get him walking again. Cameras are documenting his newfound belief and rapid response to the alternative treatment. Another six to 12 months more treatment and Damien might be fulfilling the dream of one day surfing in Bali.

New Meanings

It’s easy to take things for granted. It’s not easy when overnight you find yourself without the use of your body from the neck down, incapable of even the simplest tasks.

Damien knows this all too well. ”This is more than just an injury. This is more than just a healing opportunity. This is my purpose. This is my life. I have to be humble and just accept the idea that it’s not about looking good or being the hero. It’s about being completely real and being completely accessible so I can be just like the next guy. Hey, you could be on a vacation and this could happen to you too. It’s about opening up the ideas and finding new ways.”

Ten years of the best Western medicine and treatments and Damien had seen little physical improvement. Then an old high school buddy arrived on his doorstep and told him that without any Western medical devices he would walk again with the help of some guy with some ancient Shaolin technique practicing in the middle of the Javanese jungle.

Understanding a critical situation like this doesn’t come overnight. Countless days of pondering and researching has helped Damien evolve and develop new perceptive skills in which to explore meaning and purpose in life.

“There may be part of this circumstance that is predestined. But don’t think that it’s all predestination. Lets just say before you jump into your body in this life you have a continuum of what you are and the possibilities of your life. You look at a potential life and get to choose. There is this continuum. Where you are on the continuum is all exponentially based upon your quantum choices. In each situation you put yourself into, you make a plus or a minus decision and you slide back or forward on the continuum, where you land is completely up to you.”

“There is the collective consciousness and then there is the individual consciousness. I think that we all agree on the skin that we live in, in terms of the vibration of what we have agreed to do. But, there is also this idea of magnetism of how you are going to accomplish that. You have your individual consciousness (or soul) that, even before you jump into your body, says ‘this is the continuum that I am willing to jump into and this is the minimum and maximum and I am probably going to fall somewhere in-between,”’ Damien explains with arms outstretched. “But that is completely interdependent upon the body you jump into, the time in which you jump in, and the people with which you associate yourself with. Lets just say that a person surfs rather than playing contact sports. You could still unravel the same purpose, but at the same time it would’ve been through a completely different venue. And the venue is yourself. So for me I ask, ‘did I need to break my neck?’ I don’t know if that is necessarily the case, but at the same time what if instead of playing football, I surfed? Maybe I am dropping into a double overhead wave over a jagged reef and it happens that way. So, does it mean I was definitely going to break my neck in my life? I don’t really know.”


The Accident

Football has always been in Damein’s life. Yeah, he
was a college star. He played American football as far back as he can remember. Even now, on a recent trip back to LA from Sukabumi one of the first things he does is go to Santa Margarita football game. Football for life.

“In terms of my life, maybe I could have achieved specific things in a different way had I made different choices. In certain instances I have looked at the choices and said this is what I should do and then I do the opposite. A very specify one I am thinking about now is playing football. I told myself after I tore my knee ligament I AM going to listen to my body. If my body tells me it’s time to stop playing football, I am going to stop. Then I got myself in a conversation where I talked myself off the ledge. Your body is breaking down but you got one more year eligibility left and it looks like this team could make a run for the playoffs and you may be able to be a leader and this and that. I had just had a second knee surgery and I knew that I should’ve stopped but I just kept pushing for whatever the reason was.”

It wasn’t the last time Damien could have heeded his own advice.

During his junior year of college, he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. The doctors told him it was something he could have had all his life, even throughout his football years. One eerie statement made Damien shudder in disbelief. He was told he could no longer play football.

In the days leading up to Damien’s terrible accident at the lake, he was having issues with his neck, weird pains, and stiff shoulder and neck muscles. It was so bad he even complained to his mother. “You know what, something doesn’t feel right. When I get back, I want to get checked out,” he remembers. But in the back of his mind he just palmed it off to playing football all of those years. An aching back is a persistent reminder of fierce action and heavy hits sustained on the gridiron, a common legacy of most retired football stars. Should he have listened more intuitively?

“I jumped off the back of a boat, my chin hit the water in a weird way, and I dislocated my spine, the C4 and C5. The instant I hit the water my body just stopped working. I was looking face down at the bottom of the lake and I just couldn’t move and thinking I sure hope someone comes and grabs me. They drag me onto the sandy shore. I tried to scream, but all that came out was a deep moan. As they lay me down on the sand, I looked at my dad. I remember thinking ‘Something is wrong. This is not mellow. Something is wrong. This is not mellow.’ Apparently, I was conscious over the next couple of days but I don’t remember anything. Ten days went by and I woke up. I was a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down.”


“It kinda bummed Caspar out, because he looked at the whole situation like, ‘No bro, you are going to walk. We are going out to see this healer and get you in the ocean and go back to surfing again.’”

Even though it could have been worse, no one ever expects to be dished out such a debilitating lesson from one seemingly harmless action, especially compared to some of Damien’s cowboy heroics and bone crunching hard knocks on the football field.

“There are a lot of things that could have contributed to my accident. But, I hit the water. I didn’t hit the ground. I didn’t break my neck. I just dislocated my spine. I didn’t sever my spinal cord, I just bruised it.”

Laying face up for days on end, Damien admits there were times when he would question his fate, looking up to ask God, “why me.” Not content with complacent defeat he would look around him at the 30 or so other Colorado hospital patients with spinal cord injuries laying helpless in the exact same situation. He hadn’t severed his spinal cord. This simple fact was going to be symbolic. Damien would not allow his purpose in life be severed either.

And so began Damien’s journey.

The Surf Trip

A couple of crazy young adults at school in Connecticut concocted a feverish pact: After graduation, Damien will get his shit together and fly halfway across the world to meet Caspar in his father’s home on an island where magical waves never seem to end and intriguing smiles capture the morning and afternoon sunlight in an endless procession. They were not alone. Every kid in the world with a surfboard has dreams of surfing in Bali. Some make it. Others make excuses. Some, like Damien, don’t get much choice.

Caspar was in San Diego for another business of his in the spring of 2013 and finally, eight years after the accident, had the chance to visit Damien again in Orange County. Once there, the old friends had a chance to catch up and naturally Damien’s injury was one of the topics they talked about. Only then did Caspar find out about Damien’s spinal cord not being cut, but bruised (also called a spinal lesion). Caspar had a great idea.

Who Found This Healer?

Caspar’s father, Axel, had some amazing experiences with a healer in Sukabumi. By chance, Axel had come across the healer and he fixed his heart valves which where not closing properly any more, a problem that doctors in Germany had warned him was getting progressively worse. After the treatment with the healer, the doctors could not find any fault, and the heart valves were a perfect fit again!

Axel’s first time to Indonesia was in 1978. Later on he ended up becoming the president director of Henkel Indonesia in 1985. “Back in the days when there was no traffic in Jakarta. We only drove when there was a red light,” he laughed. “I met Pak Harry about eight or nine years ago because my wife, from Yogyakarta, had type 2 diabetes, and she wanted to go there for healing for three months.” Axel decided he didn’t marry her to be separated for three months, so he joined her on the journey.

“I do not believe in these things normally. I remember he had this arrangement there with a desk and two chairs. I was sitting on one of the chairs and he manipulated my neck a little bit and proceeded to diagnose me with four out of five of the known illnesses I had at that time. On the second treatment he diagnosed the fifth. He said if I cooperate, he could help me.” It was going to be a three-month healing. Both Axel and his wife were in it together.

We are not talking about a muscle sprain or basic injury here. Axel was suffering from chronic bronchitis, chronic sinusitis, two leaking heart valves, and was booked in for prostate surgery. Axel remembers, “On the way there it took four pit (toilet) stops. After the three months I could hold off for seven hours.” He healed all of Axel’s illnesses. And it was all qualified by Western doctors before and after. “I even forced my doctor in Germany to sign a document to say that he couldn’t see the heart valve problem anymore.”

This was all done by Pak Harry. Tragically, Pak Harry passed away a few years ago. He was a former Indonesian Special Armed Forces. Disenchanted with war games, he left the military and spent time with his Chinese foster father who helped him forge an entirely different life purpose. A background in martial arts already gave him in-depth knowledge of anatomy, which he studied further at university in America, followed by six years with a Shaolin monk in Taiwan to learn ancient healing techniques. From a class of 26 students, Pak Harry was the only one allowed to practice. (We asked about getting an interview with his guru in Taiwan but he died last year at the age of 110.)

The healer: Pak Heru
The healer: Pak Heru

“Really? I am just going to go and see this Indo Shaolin guy in the middle of the jungle and he is just going to put his hands on me and I am going to get better?”

Pak Harry passed this ancient Shaolin technique to his cousin Pak Heru over many years. He too was a devout martial artist, had studied healing through massage and physical manipulation, and had gone to an institute for anatomy. Axel admits that Pak Heru is still not yet as good as his mentor Pak Harry. “Pak Harry could help with most cancer, even stage four, but Pak Heru can only help between stage two and three. I asked him how long will it take for him to get to the level of Pak Harry in cancer. He said another two to three years.”

Getting a Quadriplegic to Indonesia

Chance had it that at the time of Caspar’s visit to Damien’s, his dad was with Pak Heru for a check-up. Remembering all the great things that Caspar and his dad had seen the healer do, the idea came about that maybe this guy could help Damien. Shortly after, Damien’s diagnosis was sent over to Indonesia, and sure enough in a Skype call the next day, the answer came back. Yes he can help, and it will take 8 to 12 months to fully recover.

Thrilled by this prospect – and a few beers later – Caspar insisted that they had to get Damien over to the healers and that it was such a great story, it had to be documented. Later the same day, whist dreaming about the possibilities, they remembered the pact they made some 15 years before in high school about doing a surf trip to Bali. So now, coming full circle, this is what was going to happen: Get Damien to the healer, get him walking again, and then Damien and Caspar would go surfing in Bali!

Caspar’s original plan was for Damien to come over by August 2014. In preparation for that he packed his stuff, rented out his apartment on Airbnb and moved to his dad’s house in Bali.

What followed was the first of many postponements from Damien. “I guess a quadriplegic who already faces a whole bandwidth of difficulties and life threatening situations in a first world country, to go travel half way around the world to a third world country was just too much,” remembers Caspar.


Like the clouds wrapping around the peak of the mountain supporting them, a shaky atrophied hand wrapped around his wheelchair brake for the first time in 10 years.

Damien hadn’t really travelled far since the accident. “Before going to Indonesia, my biggest trip was from Orange County to Stanford University. That trip alone pushed my limits. I have to go to the bathroom every other day you know. I have all these devices and this and that, I didn’t even know if travelling to Indonesia was even possible.”

Caspar’s idea had come at a time when Damien was in the middle of somewhat of a transition. “I had started to look at life beyond spinal cord injury. Let’s go coach football and plug myself back into a working community. I kinda had to make a decision on which direction to go.”

But Caspar stayed with it. “I knew that the healer could do it. My dad and I had been witnesses to many an amazing recovery at the clinic. And by that time I had actually met a woman from Jakarta who was paralyzed after a surgery on the spine. When I met her she had been in treatment for three months and was walking again!”

By this time, Damien had been to every possible form of therapy that you can imagine. Damien’s response was, “I guess I will go to Indonesia, but I doubt it will help me. There have been so many people over the years that have said they have the magic potion.”

Caspar remained persistent. He was convinced Damien would one day walk again – he just had to get him to Indonesia. Caspar tried all he could to get Damien over to Indonesia. Damien’s wife even started conspiring to get him there. A big problem was always the finances. Caspar had a number of meetings with potential investors such as surf brands and energy drink companies but though they all thought it was a great story, deemed it a gamble, and wanted to see it work first.


“As this point I was like, alright, this is not going to work. I had to change something. So I figured screw this, I am gonna put everything on one card, finance the first four months myself, generate a ‘proof of concept’ and then get others to take over the funding.”

New year 2014 came around and the flights to LA were relatively cheap. Damien still didn’t have his passports yet, and not only that, he didn’t have his diving license which is a necessary document to apply for a passport in the States. Caspar sat down with his buddy Nick who was to become the cameraman and they were faced with the option of continuously waiting or hedging their bets and making it happen! That same day the tickets were purchased. Two weeks later Caspar with his good mate Nick, armed with camera and sound gear, were ready to document the entire event, from LA to Indonesia, to Damien walking again. They’d call the film Damien’s Journey.

Once in LA, Caspar clearly announces, “We are staying on your floor until you are prepared to start this journey.”

Damien knew it was real at that point. “All of the sudden this guy’s on my couch saying ‘Let’s go!’ All of the stuff I was working on wasn’t really going anywhere, so I was like, what’s it going to hurt. Jump on a plane and go on a sweet trip. But, I had to wrap my head around that it was a trip, and an experience and opportunity to fully live my life first, then a healing opportunity second. It kinda bummed Caspar out, because he looked at the whole situation like, ‘No bro, you are going to walk. We are going out to see this healer and get you in the ocean and go back to surfing again.’ Now you are trying to tell me that we are not going to use any medical devices. Really? I am just going to go and see this Indo Shaolin guy in the middle of the jungle and he is just going to put his hands on me and I am going to get better? Honestly dude, I have medical backing saying a lot of the legit stuff I tried was supposed to work.”

Damien’s Journey

No doubt about it, Caspar’s heart and soul is dripping though every aspect of this project. His piercing blue eyes ignite in one part fire and one part magnesium to slice to the heart of passion when discussing the film. He is so convinced that Pak Heru can get Damien walking again and now had many people convinced, even Damien.

A breakthrough came in the first weeks of the treatments from Pak Heru down on that jungle ridden mountain side in Sukabumi. Like the clouds wrapping around the peak of the mountain supporting them, a shaky atrophied hand wrapped around his wheelchair brake for the first time in 10 years. “It was kinda like a magic trick,” recalls Damien. “It was to grasp my attention so I would buy into the whole process. But then he took me on a magical ride, explaining to me that I have so many emotional problems within my energy patterns that are preventing any real positive progress.”


So, the next six to eight weeks transitioned from the physical aspects to the emotional aspects and how they might be preventing his progress to walking again. “He threw me for a loop man! Emotionally, it was the biggest roller coaster ride I have ever been on.”

Damien’s journey is just that. A journey. Not necessarily the destination. When asked does he now believe he will walk again?

“In short yes. But the opportunity surrounding it is bigger than a physical action of getting up out of the chair and walking.”

Words by Andrew Campbell. Photos by Andrew Campbell and Rebecca Minna

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