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Stories That Move You.

"I've learned to hug my children tighter and to kiss my wife every time I leave them," Matthew says.

by Coertney Vanderhill

Blog manager’s note: While the blog post below about Matthew Sexton gives an overview of his accident and rehabilitation, I recommend you head straight to Matthew’s personal blog for a candid and poignant accounting of his accident and recovery. 

Matthew Sexton was riding his motorcycle on his way to work early one morning. He was cruising down  a two-lane road when he noticed an SUV heading straight toward him. As he veered to the shoulder to avoid an accident, the SUV swerved in the same direction and hit Matthew head on.

Matthew flew through the air and landed in the grass in someone’s front yard. He remembers hearing something that sounded like a twig snapping. Then, he heard voices around telling him an ambulance was on the way.

On Matthew’s blog, he describes his accident with vivid detail.

Until the moment he stopped breathing, Matthew was aware of everything happening around him. Through his training as a volunteer firefighter, he knew he had to lie still until a backboard and cervical collar was applied.

“I felt the last breath exhale and heard sirens in the distance,” he recalls in a blog post. “The rest is black and cold.”

Matthew realized later that the twig-snapping sound was that of his T5 vertebrae severing, paralyzing him from the waist down. He sustained several other injuries as well. Matthew’s lower leg was almost torn from his body, and he suffered collapsed lungs, a broken pelvis, and two broken arms. Matthew jokes that the only thing left uninjured was his left leg and that his forearms are all metal, but also says, “I have function. I can feel things. Everything works.”

He spent four weeks at South Bend Memorial Hospital, and then two months at a nursing home while his arms healed. Almost four months later he arrived at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

When Matthew arrived at Mary Free Bed, he still needed a lot of help getting in and out of bed, and he couldn’t use a wheelchair on his own. During the month he spent in Mary Free Bed’s Spinal Cord Injury Program, he learned how to do those things, plus many more.

From the beginning of his rehabilitation, Matthew had a positive attitude and strong goals. He wanted to get back to his kids. His kids are what drove him to get better, faster.

“They’re [his kids] amazing because they don’t see the difference,” Matthew said. “I’m the same dad. That’s what made me get through this.”

After his inpatient stay, Matthew and his wife drove over an hour to come to Mary Free Bed for outpatient rehabilitation. They stayed the night at The Inn at Mary Free Bed and found the drive to be completely worth it.

While Matthew had several therapies during his time at Mary Free Bed, pool therapy was his favorite.

“Of everything that made me feel normal, I can swim just like I did before,” Matthew says. “That’s great for people to feel like they can do something that they could before the accident.”

Before the accident, Matthew liked to play outside with his kids, as well as go to Silver Lake and go deer hunting with his family. He also really enjoyed his work as a volunteer firefighter.

“It’s tough to watch [people doing things that you used to do], and know that you can’t do it anymore.”

Little by little, Matthew is finding ways to get back to the things he loves. The fire department is working on putting hand controls in one of the rescue trucks so that he can drive it. While he won’t be on the front line anymore, he’ll still be able to help out.

“Since the accident, I have learned to enjoy every minute that I’m alive and not to hesitate telling every person in my life exactly how much they mean to me,” Matthew says on his blog. “I’ve learned to hug my children tighter and to kiss my wife every time I leave them.”

 

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