Handicap Accessible Van

My name is Derek Avilez, I am married to Priscilla and we have three children ages 10, 7 and 5. I am a graduate of Dade Christian school. I received my bachelors degree from Liberty University in 2001, where I had a four year full ride soccer scholarship. After college, God blessed me with an opportunity to play professional soccer for the Charlotte Eagles in North Carolina. Two years later, I would end up breaking my leg and ending my career. When I wasn't sure what to do next, God blessed me with another opportunity to play Arena Football as a kicker. Eight games into it, I pulled my back out and was released. So needless to say, professional sports and I were done! This whole time I knew that God must have something better for me.

In 2006, God gave me the best job in the world. Becoming a firefighter/paramedic for the City of Hollywood, Florida will end up becoming the career and support that God knew I would need. Having always heard of the brotherhood of firefighters, I had no idea I would actually be the recipient of this strong love on a whole different level. These men and women would end up being used by God to help my family and I survive.

On September 30, 2010, I was at the beach with my family and ended up getting injured in an off duty skim boarding accident. I jumped a wave and attempted to do a flip in the air, which I had done many times before, and came down straight on my head breaking my neck at the C2 level. I woke up floating face down in the water. Realizing I was running out of air, I prayed and asked God to take care of my wife and kids, to make sure they know I love them. I told God "here I come" and that was the last thing I remember. It wasn't my time! My wife ran out to the water, flipped me over and screamed for help. Thank God three of my coworkers (also firefighter/paramedics) were at the Tiki hut/bar about 40 yards away. When my wife screamed for help those three guys came running without even knowing it was her or me. One of my captains ended up giving me mouth-to-mouth while the other one was holding my head steady. I was rushed to the hospital where I would spend the next six months in three different hospitals and attached to a ventilator in the ICU. I was paralyzed from the neck down with an incomplete spinal cord injury, unable to move my arms or legs. During my stay in the ICU, I would have gradual improvements like being able to wiggle my toes or move my fingers. Over many months of prayer and hard work, I was able to start moving my legs and my arms a little bit. 

During this six months in the ICU, my brother and sister firefighters were there to support me. They were there to help my wife with things around the house and they were able to do countless fundraisers for me. With the money that they raised for me, I was able to lay in the hospital bed and not worry if my family would be able to go about their daily living. I also received a lot of encouragement by the prayers that I knew were being prayed. The Prayers for Derek Avilez Facebook page alone had over 3500 people praying for me. My church family and friends were also praying for me. I believe that all these prayers helped me and countinues helping me along every day. The biggest victory before leaving the hospital was getting off the ventilator. When I left the hospital I could only control my wheelchair with my chin.

Health South in Sunrise, Florida, would be my next stop for outpatient and occupational therapy. Aqua therapy also played a huge role in my recovery. A long story very short, almost 3 years later. I am able to walk with assistance and maneuver my wheelchair with my left arm. My right arm is still not moving very well, but my right leg is moving much better. My recovery is coming along slowly but surely, it is all in God's timing. It is just very important for me to pray, keep my mind right and work hard daily. I am still 100% dependent on my wife for everything. She is the real hero behind the scene. She not only has to care for me full-time but also our three kids and the house. I thank God for our love and her dedication to my kids and I.

In January of 2012, I was able to return to work in the chief's office assigned to keep track of our prefire plans and hydrant maintenance procedures. I also have the privilege of going to local high schools and giving spinal cord injury awareness speeches representing God, the Darrell Gwynn foundation and my Department.

I know what happened to me was not an "accident". God has a reason for me to be alive. I love encouraging people with my road to recovery and my testimony of God's grace and perfect will.

The next step for me is to drive and get my independence back! I just recently passed a driving evaluation to be able to have a van adapted for me to drive! I've been blessed to have Vocational Rehab, an organization to help me stay employed, pick up the cost of the conversion to make the van wheelchair accessible($25,000). They also will pay for the cost of adapting the van with technology for me to drive which will cost approximately ($60,000). Now all I have to do is pay for the van which is a little over $30,000. This van will give me some independance back. I will be able to drive myself to work, rehab and will be able to help my wife with various chores around town. We are trusting that God will provide the funds needed to purchase this van. Thank you in advance for being a blessing to us.
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Derek-Priscilla Avilez 
Fort Lauderdale, FL
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