Triumph from tragedy: an awakening

Thu, 02/26/2009 - 3:46pm
By: Ben Nelms

Triumph from tragedy: an awakening

Josh Vanderbush is a work in progress. Life for the soccer player and 2001 graduate of Starr’s Mill High School took a dramatic turn in mid-2005 after he sustained an injury that left much of his body paralyzed. Today, the Senoia resident has made significant progress on the road to having full utilization of his body. Now Josh is working with his father Rick and mother Linda to find the funds needed to defray the cost of the therapy he recently discovered, one that has him standing and taking his first steps in years after only a few weeks.

Josh, age 22 at the time, was found in critical condition July 9, 2005 after falling from a third-floor apartment balcony at Riverplace Apartments in Carrollton, where he attended the University of West Georgia. Josh injured his spinal cord in several places and also broke numerous bones in his neck. He suffered spinal cord damage between his sixth and seventh vertebrae and was paralyzed from the area of his arm pits down. After he fell, Josh was somehow able to use his cell phone to call for emergency assistance. He was taken to Carrollton’s Tanner Medical Center then moved from Tanner to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

Paralysis can be nothing short of life changing. The customary things like hanging out with friends often comes to an end. It did for Josh.

“They didn’t know how to act or what to say,” Josh explained, adding that he, too, withdrew. “Life is different. At first it was humiliating. I didn’t want anybody to seem me.”

Today, Josh is much improved in every way, but physically he still has a long way to go. He recently discovered a type of therapy offered in nearby Fayetteville at the Georgia location of the Center for Integrative Manual Therapy & Diagnostics. At the center, Josh is engaged in a four-phase therapy regimen that uses a whole body approach to treatment, Linda said. The therapy costs $150 per hour. Josh gets 4 hours of therapy each week but needs 20 hours.

Rick said his son stands every chance to be able to walk again, something that has already seen incremental beginnings in the few weeks he has been at the center. Josh on several occasions has walked 20-30 feet with the help of a walker and leg braces. Josh supplements the therapy at home by weightlifting, doing sit-ups, physical therapy and electrical stimulation.

“This was a gift from God,” Rick said of their discovery of the Fayetteville center. He discovered the center after many long searches on the Internet. “Our ultimate and only goal is for Josh to be back where he was before the injury. We can’t thank God enough for not taking him. Josh, to me personally, is a hero.”

And the day Rick envisions may well be on the way. With the help of the new therapy, Josh is about a third of the way back, he said earlier this week.

“There is a lot of help and a lot of hope out there, but the insurance companies don’t cover it,” Linda explained. “I understand that insurance companies don’t cover everything, but what do you do when the doctor says you need this therapy but it’s not covered?”

Josh established a website, as a way to share his story and to raise funds for therapy by selling t-shirts. The logo on the shirt is emblematic of the view Josh holds. It shows a wheelchair laying on the ground and a man walking away, leaving it behind. The caption on the shirt reads, “got faith?”

“We want people to visit this site to know there is hope and somewhere to go,” Rick said, adding that the t-shirt purchases and any donations received are not currently tax deductible. Rick, Linda and Josh have plans for that to change in the future by establishing a non-profit organization.

In the past three years, and especially in recent weeks, Josh has experienced increased sensation from his arm pits to his belly button, increased feeling and sensation in his legs and his big toes. His strength has increased and his bladder and bowel function has improved. Today, Josh is driving. And, hopefully, with increased therapy he will show even more dramatic improvement, and at an even faster pace.

“We’ve been told that with the therapy he needs he could be walking this summer,” Linda said.

All things considered, there is a lot more to Josh Vanderbush than paralysis. It has to do with faith and outlook and attitude and the other intangibles that separate success from failure and happiness from sorrow.

“The whole experience has awakened me inside. I’m much happier now than I was before,” Josh said with a smile. “That’s because of faith and the importance of family. There’s nothing too big that I can’t get through. And there is joy in the simplest things, like playing with my nieces.”

Epictetus once said, “He whose body is chained, but his soul unbound, is free.” Enough said.

Josh was a senior at West Georgia, majoring in marketing and management when the accident occurred. He graduated from Starr’s Mill High School in 2001 where he played varsity soccer for the Panthers all four years he attended the school and was an integral part of the 3-AAA state championship team in 2000. He attended North Georgia on a soccer scholarship in 2001, transferred to Georgia State in 2002 and then to West Georgia in 2004. Josh returned to West Georgia after the injury and graduated with a degree in Business Administration. He volunteers each week at Shepherd Center and several times a year with church groups and at Booth Middle School, talking with 7th graders on decision-making relating to drug and alcohol use.

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