The "Big Deihl" Appeal for Wheels

On August 7, 2014, Russ Deihl took his daughter to the beach on Long Island, dove into the ocean and hit his head on the bottom.  He fractured his C-1 and C-2 vertebrae and now he’s paralyzed from the neck down.  He can’t even breathe on his own.  All of Russ’ friends at Mr. Bill Fitness, the local New Jersey gym where we worked out with him, are sending out this appeal to help finance the purchase of a custom electric wheelchair that he’s learned to operate by himself using a joystick in his mouth.

Mr. Bill Fitness is a small gym, so most people know each other, but everybody knows and loves Russ.  His wisecracking, self-effacing sense of humor and positive attitude made him a central figure.  He was a regular Mon-Weds-Fri morning workout buddy, a frequent Tue-Thurs-Sat crack-of-dawn boot camp participant, and always part of MBF’s outside activities like the Jersey Shore Relay Marathon run from Seaside Heights to Asbury Park each spring.  That’s Russ in the photo above, mugging for the camera as he finished his 6.2-mile leg of last year’s race.

The first time a group of us from MBF saw Russ after his accident he was flat on back in the hospital on Long Island with ventilator and feeding tubes coming out of his mouth.  He couldn’t speak but was responsive to us with his eyes.  Now he’s finishing up at a world-class rehab facility in northern New Jersey, sitting up in a wheelchair.  The tubes have been inserted directly into his trachea and stomach, so he’s able to talk by timing his words with the rhythm of his ventilator.  He also recently underwent a groundbreaking new surgery to attach a pacemaker-type device to his diaphragm that will electronically tell his diaphragm muscles to cause him to breathe without his ventilator.  The other day he spent five full hours off his ventilator using the diaphragm activator, and his goal is to be able to breathe entirely on his own within the next few months.  It takes practice, but if anybody can do it, Russ can.

He’s still the same Russ, and his positive attitude has carried him through this in a way that has amazed, inspired and humbled all of us.  He takes painting classes with a paintbrush in his mouth; he texts and emails us from his voice-activated bedside phone; and he’s learned to surf the web using voice-activated software to allow him to look for an apartment and a similarly challenged roommate.

All of us at Mr. Bill Fitness, in addition to pulling for him—visiting as often as we can, sending cards, goofy gifts and videos of us cheering him on—are now opening our wallets.  We’re chipping in to help buy his new wheelchair so he can have as much self-sufficient quality of life as possible after he gets out of rehab.  But we won’t make it alone, and so we’re asking for whatever you can spare to help us help him.

In advance, thank you for any donations you can afford.

Donations ()

  • Anonymous 
    • $200 
    • 52 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $20 
    • 53 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $400 
    • 56 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $500 
    • 56 mos
  • Ingwer Boysen 
    • $50 
    • 57 mos
See all

Organizer and beneficiary

Bill Coyle 
Rochelle Park, NJ
Jessica Deihl 
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