Local celebrates 25 years since surviving life-changing accident
By Mary Pritchard, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – It was the fifteenth day of May, in 1987, when David Lowy dove into water that was too shallow, and was pulled out of the water with a devastating spinal cord injury and head trauma. The diving accident left the then 19-year-old a quadriplegic.
At the time of his accident, David was a college freshman in California.
“I suffered a spinal cord injury to the cervical 6 and 7 bones and head trauma,” he said. “I am a high functioning C6-7 quadriplegic.”
David, a California native, spent three weeks in an ICU in northern California, followed by two more weeks in Northridge, Cal. Six months to the day after his accident, he was released from the hospital. His rehabilitation was both outpatient and at home for one year. He returned to school in January and would go on to graduate from California State University at Northridge and then continue school to pursue a career in education.
“In the six months after my accident, I learned how to adjust, and I’m still adjusting,” he said. “I had to re-learn everything. At 19 years old, you pretty much know how to do everything. You know your body, you know how to brush your teeth and get dressed and then suddenly it takes 45 minutes to get the cap back on the toothpaste. I had to learn how to use my hands again. I remember vividly, a therapist teaching me how to put my pants on – it took me a half hour to 45 minutes and now it takes me two minutes.”
After two and a half years, David began driving using hand controls.
“I didn’t like to depend on people to drive me. People wanted me to drive a van for ease of use, but I wanted to drive a car,” he said. “I’m not a worrier or an anxious person. I didn’t care if it would be harder for me. At first it took me a half hour to 45 minutes just to get my wheelchair into the car.”
David was asked to talk with patients about their disabilities and help them cope, and also worked with a therapist on videos to help teach others activities of daily living (ADLs), like how to get dressed.
“I was so positive and well-adjusted about my injury and going on with my life that I was asked to help others with similar disabilities.”
Speaking to kids in elementary through high school about trauma prevention inspired David to become a teacher. He taught fourth grade in Los Angeles and in Worcester, and has spoken to classes to educate kids and put them at ease about disabilities.
David says adapting is something that came naturally to him even as a child.
“At age 10, I was a problem solver,” he said. “I invented a device so I could turn a light switch on and off from my bed on the other side of my bedroom. During rehab, I learned how to get dressed, push a wheelchair and ADLs. I could type with one finger, and there was a contraption for writing that would hold the pen in position, but I wanted to learn to write without it, so I worked on manipulating my hand to hold the pen so I could write.”
Since his injury David has adapted items like keys, clothing, cars and even his wheelchairs to make them easier to use.
“When I became a father, I wanted to help as much as I could,” he said. “I used a mountaineering strap hooked on the back of my chair, around me and the baby seat so I could safely hold the carrier instead of my wife always having to do it. I always have adapted things and I continue to do so.”
Reflecting on his feelings after the accident, David said, “The thought of being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life; I understood, I coped, I accepted my disability quickly, moved on and adapted, and I am still adapting. I did more sports after I became disabled than I did before; playing rugby and baseball, bowling, water skiing. I used to love hiking, dancing and other things – I still do those things but obviously it’s not the same. I do what I loved differently now, and I do more.”
David has worked at Floral Street School in Shrewsbury as an instructional aide and in the Extended School Care program for 13 years. This past May, David and his wife, Andrea, hosted a party to celebrate his 25 years of survival since the accident, give thanks to family and friends who have supported him, and help others by raising funds for the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA).
“I wanted to celebrate and give back,” he said. “I thought we’d raise $2,000 to $4,000, but we raised over $15,000. I like to celebrate; it’s a new life – a change of life – instead of crying or being sad for my loss – I just celebrate my gain. I celebrate my life; my incredible wife and three amazing kids, who mean the world to me. I am so thankful to be here with Andrea and our kids. My kids keep me active and I want to show them that my disability doesn’t slow me down.”
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