Navy Submariner's Recovery
Our son, Jackson, 23 years old, was a strapping 6'2", 200 pound nuclear engineer on a Navy submarine. He was an avid mountaineer, biker, weight trainer, and outdoorsman. Home on leave, he met up with friends to drive down the California coast to spend the night in beautiful Big Sur and bring in the New Year.
The last thing Jackson remembers (memories get hazy after trauma and a severe concussion) is unrolling his sleeping bag in the back of his friend's camper-van. While we don't know why the friend decided to drive somewhere else, what we do know from the police report is that the friend and his girlfriend were seat-belted into the front seats while Jackson was unrestrained in the back of the van. With a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit, the friend drove his van hard into a tree.
Jackson's unprotected body was turned into a projectile and slammed into the front seats, rebounding with force onto the floor of the van. The bridge of his nose was shattered, his cheekbone broken, his forehead scarred by a 7 inch gash. Several ribs fractured, and he sustained lacerations to his liver and kidneys. Most devastating were fractures in four vertebrae, two in the neck and two in the thoracic spine, leaving him paralyzed from the mid-chest down.
The last months have been a constant battle. There are so many functions of the body that are compromised in paralysis, ones you don't think about unless you are living with it or watching someone you love live with it. Jackson's chest muscles are so weak it's hard for him to cough, so he's had pneumonia three times. Between the challenges of eating with a compromised ability to swallow and a horrific bout of food poisoning, he's dropped 70 pounds, now weighing in at a less-than-strapping 130.
But through all this Jackson has remained undeterred and hopeful, even cheerful. Oh, we're not saying he doesn't have his moments of frustration and anger; he's human, after all. You don't go from being a 23-year-old specimen of athletic prowess to a quadriplegic overnight without experiencing some moments of debilitating grief. But his are brief. Over and over again he has shown inspiring wisdom, fortitude, tenacity, hope. He celebrates the steps forward - the first time he fed himself, the first time in his motorized chair, the first time he learned to manipulate the chair on his own - and then it's time to work toward the next milestone. His goal is to eventually be able to use a manual chair, and to this end he works out daily for several hours, both with the physical therapist and the occupational therapist. Add to this his treatments with the respiratory therapist, the various tests and procedures he must endure to make sure he continues to recover, the monumental tasks of bathing, eating, and emptying bowels and bladder, the soul-recharging (but tiring) visits with friends and family, and it's no wonder that he goes to bed exhausted every night. We have been told by his whole team of doctors and nurses that Jackson's positive attitude and his commitment to his own rehabilitation are the most vital factors in his eventual full recovery.
Throughout all this, the Navy has been amazing, not only his commanding officer and his shipmates, but the service branch, "Big Navy," as well. They have supplied him with the medical care he needs, they have helped to advise us on all of the extensive modifications to our house that must be in place when he eventually gets to come home, they will continue to provide the vast, almost unimaginable numbers of durable and disposable supplies that accompany quadriplegia. We - Jackson's parents, his sister, and Jackson himself - cannot begin to express our gratitude.
So why do we need your help? Even with all of Big Navy's support, the additional expenses are staggering. The ADA modifications to the house have included installing a wheelchair lift to the front door, access to the lift from the driveway through the front yard, installing an emergency ramp from the backyard, gutting one bathroom and completely remodeling it to make it wheelchair accessible, and modifying Jackson's bedroom to fit all of the specialized equipment he will need. Although the Navy provides a grant for this work, it amounts to only a third of the thousands of dollars we have already had to spend.
Because Jackson can't transfer from his 400 pound motorized wheelchair into a car, he'll need to have a specially adapted van for transportation so that he can get back into the world, whether through trips to the local gym to work out, outings with friends, or to the Naval Postgraduate School, the Navy post in our town, where he will eventually be transferred and where he hopes to be able to perform light duty. The VA's vehicle grant, though generous, covers less than half the cost of the modified van Jackson will need to have.
The money raised through this Go Fund Me campaign will cover the modifications to the house and the remaining cost of the van. Anything beyond this will go to helping to support the inevitable high costs of living that accompany severe disability. Jackson fully expects to work again someday, but until then, he will need financial assistance.
This young man is such an extraordinary human being. Of course this sounds like the kind of thing his parents would say (we fully acknowledge our profound bias), but it's not just us. His shipmates have repeatedly driven through the night from Seattle, Washington to Palo Alto, California in order to spend a weekend's leave with him. Mountaineering buddies from all parts of the country have flown and driven to be with him. Old friends from high school have made pilgrimmages to check in on him. One special friend commutes three hours five days a week to spend every evening with him. In a special citation which his commanding officer brought to him in the hospital, the CO wrote, "Petty Officer Sherry consistently performed his demanding duties in an exemplary and highly professional manner. Exhibiting extraordinary drive and a consistently positive demeanor, he eagerly and flawlessly performed countless tasks.... He aggressively pursued divisional and department qualifications, finishing significantly ahead of schedule, demonstrating his high personal standards. Petty Officer Sherry's managerial ability, personal initiative, and unswerving devotion to duty reflected credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
Every dollar you contribute to this fund is a tangible wish for Jackson's recovery. You help us, his parents, recover from the expenses of modifying the house, but more importantly, you propel Jackson back into the world where he can contribute so much and do such good.
We have so many reasons to be grateful: Jackson is alive, he is mentally as brilliant as ever, he is upbeat and tenacious, the Navy is supportive, and we have the love of friends and family. It would mean so much to all of us to count you among those supporting Jackson, as well.
In the If We'd Known Then What We Know Now department, we've just finished remodeling Jackson's bathroom...again. At least this time it wasn't the whole shebang. When we did the first remodel before Jackson came home, we were advised to keep the tub and get a special chair with a slider. This (pretty clever) device allowed him to park next to the tub, release a lever, then shift the top half of the chair onto a frame that fit inside the tub. Sounds good, right? That's what we thought, too. Unfortunately, it required two people, in addition to Jackson, to operate, and left him with his feet awkwardly smushed against one end of the tub. When your goal is increasing independence (not to mention avoidance of injury to the feet or anywhere else), this contraption doesn't quite fit the bill. Back came our amazing contractor and his team to remove the tub and create a wheel-in shower. It's awesome! The price tag was awesome, too, unfortunately - over $5000 for the materials and labor to create a new sloping sub-floor where the tub once stood, waterproof it and part of the wall, add a trench drain, and tile the whole area. But it works like a charm, allowing Jackson and one caregiver to do the whole shower process, and as his strength increases, he'll eventually be able to shower entirely on his own.
In other construction news, we've learned that Jackson's emergency exit route is too narrow for him to actually exit. Between this and the vital need for a workout area for him - hours of daily workouts are essential to maintaining the mobility he has, as well as to increasing both strength and mobility - we are having to completely redo our backyard. We started the process by removing an 80 foot tall, nearly 100 year old Monterey Pine from the yard. A somewhat melancholy, but extraordinary operation. We have enormous respect for arborists! More on all this when the project is in full swing.
One of the most exciting advances of late is that Jackson got his manual chair this week! (See the picture below.) The learning curve will be steep and the training intense. The next time you see someone tooling along in a manual chair, take a moment to stop and be impressed. It requires a surprising amount of upper body strength to propel the thing, and that's something that, by definition, is in short supply for quadriplegics. But Jackson is nothing if not determined, and his workouts now include wheeling around the house for an increasing amount of time each day. He loves the access to small areas that it gives him, as well as the increased maneuverability. Look for him to be out and about with it by the end of the year!
And one final development. We've discovered a remarkable piece of rehab gear called the Galileo. It's a vibration machine that has a variety of positive effects on people with spinal cord injuries. In fact, the woman who is training Jackson on it has an SCI herself. She is a fireball in a wheelchair and an inspiration to our whole family. The device is helping to eliminate the rigidity of the muscles in his legs and the attendant spasms that shake his whole body. It also enables strengthening exercises for the parts of his body he has no feeling in or control over: his legs, torso, and hands. The VA has recently approved a contract for buying Galileo machines and seems very excited about them, but unfortunately there is no current plan to purchase any. Because most gains are made within the first year after an injury, we feel there isn't time to wait; Jackson has decided to buy one himself so that he can work out with it twice daily. At just over $18,000, the expense is a little scary. But between the results that Jackson has gotten in only three sessions and those a friend of his with a similar injury level has seen in herself over a couple of years, we simply have to take the plunge.
As always, we send our deepest appreciation to all of you who have contributed to this Recovery Fund. We would be so grateful for any donation those of you visiting this page could make!
A giant piece of news is that he now has a modified Toyota Sienna van, thanks to all of your generous donations! It’s adapted for him to be a passenger in his wheelchair for now, but in time he’ll be able to drive himself. Specialists in adapted vehicles essentially dismantled the chassis and dropped it four inches, then put the vehicle back together again. It “ kneels,” the van door slides open, and a ramp extends so that Jackson can roll into the passenger seat location. There, an automatic lock engages with a post on the bottom of his wheelchair, and he is safely locked into place. It’s quite the amazing contraption. Jackson and Dad have been to the Naval Postgraduate School gym a few times now, and in the fall they'll be taking an art history class together at Monterey Peninsula College. Jackson will also be taking a full load of classes online, working towards getting a degree in accounting. Classes start next week!
Throughout all of this, he’s still exercising and using an electronic stimulus device in an effort to encourage nerve growth in his arms. Any return of hand function would go a long way towards easing day-to-day tasks, as would increased functioning of his triceps, which are still severely compromised. We’re told that changes in function and sensation can still happen during the first year, at least.
As always, we are so grateful to those of you who have supported Jackson over these last months with your donations and encouraging comments. There’s a long and expensive road still ahead, and we deeply appreciate any contributions to Jackson’s Go Fund Me campaign.
Stay strong Jackson. I wish you continued progress and strength.
Glad to hear there's continued progress! I believe Peninsula Wellness Center has a therapy pool but not sure if it's salt water. https://locu.com/places/peninsula-wellness-center-marina-us/#menu
Fantastic news! Erin gave my husband and I some info about Jackson when we were at a party at her home in VB. I would like to say that since I have been apartment shopping recently for our now medically retired Marine son (his was a recreational skydiving accident...aka...a hard landing) and his new bride, I have discovered that quite a few apartment complexes , at least here in the Virginia Beach area, have salt water pools. You may be able to find some near where you are that would allow Jackson to use their facilities. Prayers for continued improvement. You go, Jackson!!!
This is all such great news! Keep up the good work, Team Jackson! ❤️
That's so awesome! So happy for you all -good news!
This makes me so happy!
Great progress. Keep up the good work Jackson. Maybe you could get involved with ride2recovery in the future.
That's so wonderful that Jackson is finally home! You all must be thrilled for him to be able to leave the hospital environment and to have come such a long way. Jackson is an amazing and strong young man to endure this with such grace and determination. Warmest wishes to you all.
Love your fighting spirit and determination Jackson every day is a step further ❤️