The screw falls out of his hand, hitting the ground next to his motorized wheelchair.
And once again, Chad Smith is reminded of the little things that frustrate him the most, remembering when tinkering around and fixing anything he could in the garage was second nature to him.
On a tough day, Smith struggles to do the simplest tasks, such as hold a screw or grab an item off of a table. But that isn’t every day.
Story continues below gallery
Three months ago, Smith could hardly lift a piece of paper. Now, the 27-year-old has full range of motion in his arms. He can grab a cup and bring it all the way to his mouth, he can open doors and do pull-up exercises from his wheelchair. And he can move his legs, too.
Doctors can’t tell Smith with certainty whether he will walk again after a dirtbike accident that fractured his C-3 and C-5 vertebrae Jan. 29. Smith’s spinal cord wasn’t severed, but he 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.
Since the accident, doctors and specialists have told him that with most spinal, or neck, injuries that result in paralysis, if the victim is not moving his or her legs and arms two years following the accident, they likely never will again, the couple said.
But Smith has become very independent in just three months. The next big goal is moving from a motorized wheelchair to a manual one, he said.
Since the accident, Smith has gone from lying on his back in a hospital bed, unable to lift his arms, to being able to lean forward and side-to-side in his chair. He can also raise his arms above his head and reach out, fully extending them.
“I get frustrated at things I can’t do easily anymore, but I’ve never been mad that this accident happened,” Chad Smith said. “Doctors told me I needed to have movement within two years, so I made my goal to be moving within one year. But (the timeline) doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to walk again.”
Smith first realized he could move his toes by accident during rehab. The day he wiggled his toes, he focused on doing it again to make sure it wasn’t just a muscle spasm. Soon after, Smith was concentrating and moving his legs from side to side. Now, with help from his wife Sheri or a nurse, Smith can even lift and extend his right leg.
“We’re in a pretty good spot right now,” Sheri Smith said. “Three months ago, everything was one day at a time. I remember his limitations and how much progress he would need, and now I’m amazed. If you asked me back then if he would ever walk again, I don’t know if I could have answered that question, but today, I say he will.”
After one surgery on his neck, about a month-long stay at the hospital and rehabilitation facility, Chad Smith is making strides toward one day standing up and walking again.
Since the accident, Sheri Smith, who is a nurse, has transitioned to full-time caregiver because of the demands at home to get her husband comfortable, ready for the day and take him to his appointments.
On days when Chad Smith has rehab at 8 a.m., the couple is up by 5 a.m., to leave enough time for Sheri Smith to get him dressed and ready for the day. Then, Chad Smith’s grandfather picks him up and takes him to the north side of Indianapolis for his appointments. He attends rehab that focuses on his upper body, basic motor skills, coordination and his legs three times a week.
The care he has needed after the accident has racked up about $600,000 in medical expenses to date, Sheri Smith said.
From the $35,000 helicopter ride on the day of the accident to the $250 the couple spends on his medication each month, trying to determine how bills will be paid for can be a scary task, Sheri Smith said.
For Sheri Smith, much of the last three months has been spent separating which bills are covered by insurance and which are the couple’s responsibility to pay, Sheri Smith said.
“Bills don’t change. I’ve called and told utility, mortgage — every company we owe — about our situation and there’s no type of relief,” Sheri Smith said. “This is our dream home, I don’t want to sell it. But if it means he has what he needs, I’m at peace with it.”
A GoFundMe page raised about $10,400, but that money was used toward buying a wheelchair accessible van, Sheri Smith said. And finding that van required driving to Illinois to go look at one that was listed online, Sheri Smith said.
Friends and family donated supplies and money to build Chad Smith a wheelchair ramp into the house and a wheelchair accessible shower, Sheri Smith said.
Sheri Smith’s coworkers make meals several times a week for the family and donate a lot of necessities, such as toiletries. And fellow parents will give rides to their daughter to and from basketball practice and other school functions, creating one less task for Sheri and Chad Smith to worry about, they said.
The amount of people who have rushed to help in any way possible has been incredible, they said.
“Without donations and all our family and friends dedicating time to help, we wouldn’t have our ramp, or bathroom,” Sheri Smith said. “It’s been incredible. We wouldn’t have been able to do all of this on our own.”
Sheri and Chad Smith are planning an open house this summer to thank all who have helped the couple since the accident in January.
If you would like to help, or get involved, you can email Sheri Smith at Ssmith3@crh.org