Lying in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the middle of his chest to his toes, a Morgantown man focuses, determined to lift a piece of paper.
Chad Smith lifts the paper and shows that almost a full range of motion has returned in his right arm.
The tingling and burning in Smith’s left arm will soon go away. But the feeling in his legs may never come back. He knows this and has an unwavering, positive attitude.
Every day, Smith, 27, sets his sights on a new goal. Lifting the piece of paper was no easy task for Smith. Ten days ago, he couldn’t move a single limb from his chest to the bottom of his feet. This week, he’s moving his right arm at will and working on learning to use his fingers on his right hand.
On Jan. 29, Smith was riding a dirt bike on his property when he wiped out, landing on his back. He was only going about 10 mph, which for most people would likely mean sore muscles, some bruises and scratches.
But Smith had a medical condition he never knew about, called Klippel-Feil Syndrome, which is an abnormal fusion of sections of his spine. The disorder left Smith with a narrow spinal column, putting him at a higher risk for paralysis.
So that day, when the back wheel locked up as Smith tried to slow down, he went to lay the bike down on its side and put his foot out to catch his fall. When he put his foot down, it slid out from under him. The moment Smith hit the ground, he couldn’t move. His wife, Sheri Smith, came down the hill after a friend yelled out for her to call 911. Sheri Smith, a registered nurse, held her husband’s head stable while they waited for emergency workers to arrive.
The accident fractured his C-3 and C-5 vertebrae. His spinal cord wasn’t severed, but he was paralyzed.
Doctors don’t know what Smith’s long-term prognosis is. For now, it’s a day-to-day schedule of rehabilitation for his arms and hands.
Doctors did tell the family that if Smith regained movement in his legs within one or two days following the accident, he would be more likely to one day walk again, Sheri Smith said. Ten days after the wreck, Smith can’t move his legs. But he can somewhat feel the sensation when someone touches his toes and his legs.
“I’m going to do everything I can to walk again,” Chad Smith said. “It happened. I can’t change it. I don’t really dwell on it. Sitting around asking why doesn’t change anything. “
Chad’s positivity and calm demeanor has been infectious to those that come and visit him. Since the accident, Sheri Smith said she has received hundreds of text messages, calls and posts on social media. About 15 visitors have stopped by each day. The day of his spinal surgery at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, about 40 friends and family were in the waiting room supporting each other and Chad’s journey to walk again, Sheri Smith said.
“It’s been a very emotional time, but my husband has been in excellent spirits through all of this,” Sheri Smith said. “His spirits are high and that’s left our spirits high. It’s been amazing.”
When visitors come in, many are saddened and feel bad or scared for Chad, Sheri Smith said.
Chad does upper body rehab every two hours, which focuses on his arms and hands, but he will soon begin his lower body rehabilitation at Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana. The neurosurgeon told the family the realistic time window to determine if a patient with paralysis will ever walk again is about two years. If Chad gets to 18 months and still can’t walk or move his legs, it’s likely that he will never walk again, Sheri Smith said.
Fellow employees at Federal Plumbing and Piping in Franklin where Chad works have already offered to gather supplies necessary for wheelchair ramps at Chad and Sheri’s home. And one of Chad’s best friends started a GoFundMe page to collect donations for the expenses, such as renovating their home and making it wheelchair accessible, Sheri Smith said. More than $7,500 had been raised.
Sheri Smith has bathed Chad, fed him and helped him move in his bed to get comfortable. But she knows the little things now are just the beginning of what their life could be if Chad never regains movement in his legs, Sheri Smith said.
“There’s always the possibility he may never walk again. Every little milestone is a huge step,” Sheri Smith said. “He hasn’t gained any movement yet, but even feeling is a big step. I can’t say what we plan for, or expect, tomorrow. We have a whole new life ahead of us.”
Feeling sorry for himself isn’t going to bring movement back to his legs or help him walk any sooner. One day at a time is the only way he can live right now, he said.
“I just want to get back to doing basic things like chopping wood,” Chad Smith said. “If I don’t walk again, it’s not going to change who I am, it’s just going to change how I do things.”
HOW TO HELP
You can make donations to the Smith family’s GoFundMe page by visiting