Tiffany Garner – Of the Suburban Journals/Belleville Journal
Matt Langenhorst’s life was changed forever in an instant on Feb. 8, 2001 when he and his wife Erika were in a car accident along Highway 94 in St. Charles, Mo.
Matt, a St. Charles police officer at the time, was driving an SUV when it slipped on the icy road crashing into a cement barrier and rolling several times. Erika walked away without a scratch on her but Matt, 35, broke his neck.
Erika recalls looking over at her husband, who was unconscious, just lying fully reclined in his seat.
“I was scared,” she said.
Matt was airlifted to St. John’s Mercy Medical Center where doctors thought the possibility of survival was slim. But Matt pulled through and now lives with the devastating injury of being paralyzed from the neck down.
“Matt’s injury is considered a C4 spinal cord injury,” Erika said. “He needs care 24 hours a day and spends several hours every day doing intensive therapy.”
Matt and Erika moved to Fairview Heights months after the accident to be closer to family. For at least three hours a day, Matt does various exercises and therapy. During one therapy, Matt uses a machine that simulates a bicycle. Matt usually stands up for an hour and he uses electrodes that stimulate the muscles, both of these exercises keep the muscles from getting too weak.
“There’s really no hope that I will ever walk again just from the therapy,” Matt said.
Matt said that it is difficult going from being very active and in control to having no control over his own body. For over four years Matt has relied on Erika and his parents for everything from scratching an itch to eating. However, Matt is able to move his wheelchair on his own with just a nod of his head.
“There are sensors in the headrest and I have a screen I use to switch modes,” he said.
Matt can move forward, backward and recline on his own. He said he prefers the headrest sensors opposed to the other option of the sip and puff where movement is determined by breathing into a straw-like instrument.
Erika said that since Matt in unable to care for himself she stays home and cares for him. And it’s easier that way because nursing care is very expensive.
“I’m afraid to leave him just for a couple of minutes because I wonder what would happen if the house caught on fire or if he accidentally hurts himself,” she said.
Erika said it’s not unusual to pay $18 an hour for nursing care and he would need care at least nine hours a day.
“We can’t afford to pay that much money,” Erika said. “Maybe if I had a job making $500,000 a year but that isn’t likely.”
Erika said that one good thing about her taking care of Matt is that they get to spend a lot of time together.
“I wish it didn’t have to be under these circumstances but we like being together,” she said. “Before being a cop he worked weird hours and I worked a nine-to-five job so now we are together all the time.”
Matt and Erika are leaving for Washington, D.C. on April 9 to attend the Cure Paralysis Now Rally on April 12 . There they will meet with senators and congressman at the nation’s capital to urge them to pass the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act when it is reintroduced in April.
Matt said he wants the bill to pass because it will help people suffering paralysis from spinal cord injuries by finding a cure.
“I figured I might as well try and fight for a cure and this is what I can do,” he said. “It’s better than just sitting around doing nothing.”
The Cure Paralysis Now Rally will feature speakers who have all been affected by spinal cord injury. Dana Reeve, wife of Christopher Reeve, lost her husband from complications due to his injury and she will be the first speaker. Christopher Reeve, an actor, gained national attention to spinal cord injuries after his paralysis during an equestrian competition in 1995. He died in October 2004.
Matt and Erika said their goal is to get as many people aware of the legislation as possible.
“Most people don’t know that much about spinal cord injuries but there are over 500,000 people living with spinal cord injuries,” she said.
The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act is broken into three parts: biomedical research, Rehabilitation research and quality-of-life programs. Erika and Matt said that the average citizen can help get this bill passed by simply writing, calling or e-mailing their representatives and asking them to pass this bill.
“This bill will really benefit everyone,” Erika said. “People might not give much thought about it now but if they have to face it for themselves or someone they love it will be worth it.”