A story of surviving and thriving after spinal cord injury.
When 25 year old Casey Ellin dove into the surf at Jones Beach on June 1, 2013, he was enjoying a typical Long Island beach day with his friends. Unfortunately the water was too shallow for driving and he hit his head on a sand bar. In the blink of an eye, he fractured his neck at C4/C5/C6 and a sunny day of fun turned into a nightmare for Casey and his family.
He spent months in the hospital; surviving 30 days in ICU on life support while battling multiple life-threatening complications. After 3 months of acute rehab at Kessler Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey he was discharged home to Long Island in October, 2013.
Before the accident, Casey earned a Master’s Degree in Sports Management from St. John’s University and was working as the Assistant Director of for Intramurals and Sport Clubs Programs at Stony Brook University. He was well known for his athletic ability, wicked sense of humor and unfailing positive attitude. He was outgoing and social and almost anyone who met him became a friend. After the accident, he stayed close to home, too self-conscious to attempt to feed himself in public and reluctant to be seen in a wheelchair.
“Before Empower, I felt like a shell of myself.”
Casey credits Empower SCI, a two week residential program that offers people with cervical spinal cord injuries a second chance at rehab, for helping him develop the skills and confidence he needed to move forward after his injury. “Before Empower, I felt like a shell of myself. Empower helped me get back to being me. It’s like once you get into the Empower bubble and drink the Kool-Aid, anything is possible! It gives you a level of confidence to tackle whatever you want to try next and take that confidence into your everyday life.”
One of the highlights of a stay at Empower SCI is their adaptive surfing outing. The event takes place very close to the scene of his accident so getting back into the water was even more challenging for Casey.
“Last year surfing was a huge challenge, just getting in the water was scary.
This year I was actually able to enjoy the ocean. I didn’t think that was ever going to happen again.”
Empower SCI changed everything for Casey. When he went back for session two this past summer even his sister Bridget noticed the change.
“Last year Casey was nervous and anxious, he was so shy entering the building… this year it was like a local celebrity was being welcomed in. It was like Casey was being reunited with his “tribe.” It was really beautiful to watch.”
Today, Casey is working hard on his recovery and planning for the future. He is back to being his social, funny self, spreading joy and laughter where ever he goes. He hopes to eventually live on his own and pursue a job in a sports related field hopefully in adaptive sports or working with paralympic athletes. His LinkedIn profile describes his current occupation as “Rehabbing from a life changing accident for now,” in the meantime he is not letting a spinal cord injury stop him from enjoying everything life has to offer.
Casey was able to attend Empower SCI rehab camp through a grant from NYCSCIA. To find out more about NYCSCIA Grants and how we help people with spinal cord injuries maximize their independence, click here.