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Survivor Story: Quadriplegic learns to walk again

July 14, 2011|Kristin Bien, WSBT Reporter

Part attitude and part miracle of modern medicine: Paul Sullivan man was told by doctors that he would never walk again. This week he walked into Memorial hospital to share his story with us. He is a walking testament to sheer determination and modern medicine.

"It was July 26 of '07," says Paul as he sits in a chair at Memorial Hospital.

That day in July was the day Paul Sullivan's life changed forever. In an instant, as he was riding his motorcycle around a curve near Michigan City, he went from being a normal guy, to quadriplegic.

"I tried to lift my head and it wouldn't go up," says Paul "I just thought 'hmm.' Then I tried to move my legs to get up and there was nothing but numbness. So I thought, 'this isn't good.'"

And it wasn't good. The 45-year-old father and husband broke his neck. He was flown to Memorial Hospital in South Bend, but the prognosis wasn't good.

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"I was given a one percent chance of walking. And when I asked why one percent the reply was because I can't give you zero," says Paul.

Sullivan's neurologist, Dr. David Cockerill rarely sees spinal cord injuries this severe. But, that didn't stop Sullivan from making progress.  Several weeks after the motorcycle accident left him paralyzed he could wiggle his toes again.

Now, four years later, with the help of a walker, he can walk. Of course a lot of that progress was done at Memorial Hospital and other rehab facilities but doctors say the biggest reason Sullivan is now able to walk: determination and attitude.

"All I did was give him the opportunity. He took it and he went with it," says Cockerill, neurosurgeon at Memorial North Central Neurosurgery.

"Yeah, it has been a lot of work," says Paul, "I'm just doing what I can do. It would be easy to sit in a chair. There are people out there that made that decision. I can get from point A to point B a lot quicker in a wheelchair. And this is a little more work. But, I try to do it because I owe it to the people who can't do it."

And Sullivan isn't just walking. He is playing hockey, kayaking, downhill skiing and even rock climbing. But by far the most important thing Sullivan is able to do now, show his loving wife just how far he has come.

'I was very thankful for his arms," says Lisa Sullivan, Paul's wife, "cause you don't realize what a hug when you can't hug anymore. What just a hug people take for granted."

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