August 29, 2016. Just a regular day. Kicking back with Amy, my girlfriend, and having a couple of beers – alright 4 beers. I decided I wanted to go ride my motorcycle. Amy didn’t think it was a good idea. I did. That little decision changed my life.
Going too fast on the approach to the on-ramp, the bike went down, hit the concrete curb and threw my body into the highway. I was hit by a car and dragged 40’. No helmet. They thought I was dead or definitely dying. They had to intubate me on the highway. Bones were broken from T2-T9 – my neck at C3. Both hands were shattered. My wrists weren’t really attached. Both arms were broken. My left arm was so mangled they wanted to amputate.
My kids talked the Doctor into saving my arm. They put me in a medically induced coma for the first 30 days with no idea what the outcome was going to be. When I “woke up”, all I could think was “wow, I must have really done something now!”
I was in the hospital for 4 months and wore a neck brace during that time; that’s what kept me from being a quad (I’m a T5 para). The arm they didn’t amputate? I was told I’d have no more than 10% use of it. After 10 months, I was able to go home, but I had another long road to recovery. I had to learn how to eat, use my arms, brush my teeth, brush my hair. Since I was a para, I had a manual chair, but I put absolutely no effort into exercising. I just wanted to get better and enjoy the summer.
By 2019 I was starting to exercise more, but I was fighting infections and undergoing more surgeries. I get a notice – they’re taking my home, the home I had just rehabbed for my “new” normal. While I was in the hospital, I couldn’t pay the mortgage, so I filed for bankruptcy and here they were repossessing the house. I sold a lot of my belongings, that I no longer needed, and bought a camper. We went to live in a campground. Amy was a trooper through all of this.
It wasn’t a good time – I ate a lot and drank a lot. My normal weight is around 150; I hit 220. And then one night I was sitting at the firepit and saw lights coming down the one-way street. A drunk, driving a golf cart, smashed into my wheelchair (totaled) and then because he was so drunk – beat me up. It seemed if it could go wrong – it did.
Drinking became a way of life and then one day I went to empty my leg bag and it was red. I realized I was killing myself. I dumped my drink and haven’t had one since.
I started exercising and was going to different rehab facilities to try out equipment. But I couldn’t find something that would impact my whole upper body. I searched for months – I talked to therapists – I tried every machine I saw. Then I saw a small ad in New Mobility Magazine advertising the VitaGlide® and thought I had to check this out.
Almost a year ago, I purchased my VitaGlide®. At first, I was huffing and puffing, but I was having fun and I could feel the difference. I use other equipment as well. While I started out in a manual chair, I ended up in a power chair due to my weight and lack of exercise. My goal was to get back into a manual chair and then lift myself out as necessary to sit in a chair, go to bed, and other functions that most people don’t even think about.
I work out 5-6 days a week and I’ve lost 68 pounds. I sleep better. I eat better and I don’t need my spasmodic medicine as often as I used to. My core strength has really increased and my Hoyer lift is now in storage in the basement. Remember the Doc who said I’d never have more than 10% use of my arm? I actually have 80-90% use.
There’s a place close to where I live called The Draft. A lot of motorcyclists go there. When I see them drinking, I’ll go tell them my story. Most of them want to know more and listen. Some of them don’t and when they don’t, I just wheel away. At one time, I was probably one of those guys – now I know better.
Life will never be what it was, but it’s good. I feel good. I have plans and I’m focused on living the best life. For those of us in chairs, it’s really important to exercise. Find the right mix of activities, machines, or aids that work best for you and just do it. For me, that’s the VitaGlide® – for you, it might be something different. But what’s important is we live every day the best we can.
I love meeting new people. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alan Colpas as told to Marcy Ullom…..