Beating the Odds
This story was originally written by Tim Callahan, as part of his participation as the Patient Perspective Speaker during the 2021 AMRPA Virtual Fall Educational Conference & Expo. Edits have been made for clarity and style.
Growing up, my two older brothers and I learned two things: how to better our relationship with God and how to play sports. If we weren’t in church, we were on a field or on a court. That trend continued all the way through high school, where I played soccer, basketball and baseball.
After high school I played a couple years of college basketball at a small Christian college. During that time, my brothers, my friends and I got involved in flag football. We played in a huge local league in Jacksonville, Florida, and after our first game we realized that we were pretty good. We ended up playing every chance we could, and our team traveled all over the United States to play in different events. Before we knew it, we were nationally ranked and known as one of the best teams in the nation. We won thousands of dollars, appeared on television several times and had the chance to play with NFL stars.
That lasted about 10 years until that one infamous day in July of 2010, when a routine play was thought to sideline me for life.
While playing, an opposing player fell on top of me causing me to break my neck in two different places: the C3 and C4 vertebrae. I suffered a severe spinal cord injury and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. After hearing the doctors say that I might never walk again, I never lost faith.
My wife of three years at that time was told her husband had no feeling from the neck down and would be a functional quadriplegic at best. She stood strong and knew that the doctors, nurses and therapists would do all they could to get me back on my feet. We knew God had bigger plans for our lives.
“After hearing the doctors say that I might never walk again, I never lost faith.”
Two weeks at the UF Health ICU felt like an eternity. I was put on a halo, ventilator and feeding tube. I had two separate surgeries. I developed a staph infection, pneumonia and fevers that reached 104 degrees.
But days after the first surgery I began to regain feeling in my toes. Every day a new sensation returned. I can remember describing it as leaps and bounds. It was incredible to watch the doctors and nurses work.
I was then able to leave UF Health and head to Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital where the real recovery process began. I had to teach myself how to do everything all over again, such as feeding myself, brushing my teeth, walking and using the bathroom — things we take for granted every day. But with the help from my incredible therapists, I was able to accomplish everything.
Three weeks after being told I may never walk again, I took my first steps, and after spending six weeks at Brooks, I achieved my goal of walking out of there.
“But with the help from my incredible therapists, I was able to accomplish everything.”
Even though I still suffered from paralysis, I wasn’t content with just walking. After two years of therapy and building my body back to somewhat normal, I did the unthinkable. I stepped back on the flag football field and played in a national tournament. I wasn’t able to do the same things I did before, but my team still found a way to win the tournament.
After being paralyzed, winning another national tournament was a monumental step for me. After the tournament, news had got around about me playing and winning. I started getting Facebook messages and emails from people I didn’t even know telling me how I’ve inspired them to overcome their fears. It was so overwhelming. So many people were calling me their hero. I don’t think of myself as a hero, and I never have. It’s hard to look at yourself and think like that. For me, I was just playing flag football. If people look at me and get inspired, then I’m all for that. I didn’t really have a great reason for wanting to play flag football again but after receiving those messages, I knew why I played. A comment that Bethany Hamilton’s character made in the movie, Soul Surfer was spot on to me:
“I wouldn’t change what happened to me, because then I wouldn’t have this chance…This chance to touch more lives than I ever could’ve imagined.”
We also welcomed two miracle boys into our family, Elijah and Noah Callahan. Those two boys are by far the most rewarding part of my story.
I would love to share my story with millions of people around the world. Being able to talk about what doctors, nurses, and therapists were able to accomplish is so rewarding. I also feel like I owe it to everyone who isn’t as fortunate as me. I was given a second chance at life and I’m trying to do the best I can to live that out. That’s what’s prompted me to start the Tim Callahan Foundation.
“I was given a second chance at life and I’m trying to do the best I can to live that out.”
The Foundation benefits a young child’s life through the development of sports -- showing kids to never give up, no matter what circumstance life throws at them, and maintain a winning attitude. Through the Foundation, we offer a variety of free sports camps for boys and girls aged three through 15, including softball, soccer, football, basketball, baseball, wrestling and volleyball.
The Foundation also gives brand new sporting equipment to kids in need. They provide for kids that love sports but have never had the means to own new sporting equipment. Over the past eight years, they have inspired and blessed thousands of kids.
Learn more about Brooks Rehabilitation and the inpatient medical rehabilitation care services they provide.
To learn more about the Tim Callahan Foundation, visit their website and follow them on Facebook.
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