Matt Loring carries the weight of his world on his shoulders.
On June 12, 2011, the 39-year-old misjudged his entry into a swimming pool, snapping his neck in the process.
Now paralyzed from the upper chest down, his shoulders have had to take over the work of his limbs.
Looking up from the wheelchair in which he is strapped, the curly-mopped man with an engaging grin waggles his left pinky finger back and forth.
“That was a Thanksgiving gift,” he laughs, explaining if he is going to get more movement, it is likely to happen within the first two years of the injury.
Loring’s capabilities and outlook are amazing, considering his near-drowning and severe injuries.
“I’m not sure if I hit the side or the bottom, but I heard my neck snap. I was face down and I knew what had happened,” he says, “I couldn’t move. I took the first breath of water – my brain was going nuts, I started to panic.”
Loring says he took another lungful of water and figured his life was over.
“It just kinda got quiet, everything slowed right down,” he says. “It was quiet and I could see the light reflecting off the bottom of the pool.”
Rescued by his buddies, Loring remembers being on the pool deck where he had been sitting in the sun minutes earlier, and nothing more until he woke up in intensive care in Vancouver.
Friends have told him an ambulance took him to Shuswap Lake General Hospital, where they prepped him for the flight to Vancouver and another ambulance ride to Vancouver General.
Loring calls his 10 days in ICU “horrific,” not because of the care, but because of his medical condition.
“I had a breathing tube in my lungs and was reacting badly to the morphine – I thought I was in some kind of warehouse and they were trying to steal my organs,” he says.
“When you are in such a bizarre state, always seeing new people, none of it made sense.”
In one of his lucid moments, Loring managed to tell his doctors to change his medication. That problem solved, he also had to contend with pneumonia and a high fever from the pool water he had ingested.
“They told me I had broken my neck and had a spinal cord injury,” he says, noting the information did not prepare him for waking to being wired up with a plethora of tubes and only minor movement in one arm.
Three of his vertebrae were injured – one of them completely shattered. During the course of a nine-hour operation, vertebra fragments were removed and a series of screws and a titanium cage installed to protect his spinal cord.
“From the time the ambulance came, to the time I was released from GF Strong, the care that I got was fantastic, from everyone, including the cleaning staff,” he said.
“Gloria (Morgan) was with me the whole time, and if it hadn’t been for her being in the ICU, I couldn’t have made it.”
Loring says it would have been far too hard without the presence and encouragement of his longtime girlfriend and mother of his youngest child Grace.
A week after his accident, in intense pain but unable to communicate this because of his breathing tube, Loring convinced doctors he could breathe on his own.
“When they pulled it out, I was able to cough all the gunk up and breathe on my own,” he says with a triumphant laugh. “After that, my improvement impressed everyone.”
Loring was moved to the hospital’s spinal care ward where regular food was slowly introduced and mild physical therapy begun.
Sling beds were used to get him upright again, he says, explaining that quadriplegics have blood pressure problems because the muscle is no longer there to pump blood through the body.
“It takes a lot of time to get the body used to being in an upright position,” he says of his month-long stay on the spinal ward, before heading out to GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre for six months.
Loring gets around in two wheelchairs and is anticipating the arrival of a lighter one with excitement, because using his non-motorized chair puts a great deal of stress on his shoulders.
“The majority of rehab was spent strengthening my shoulders to keep them fit and in place because they do all the work and I don’t want to blow them by the time I’m 45,” he says.
A care aide visits Loring daily to help him bathe and dress, and his two older children Jasmine, 14, and Elijah, 12, live with him half the week.
Much of his day is spent working on his rehab, working with what he can do now and ready to work with whatever else comes.
He says getting a cardio workout is difficult for a quadriped and he is hoping one of the local gyms will invest in some adaptive equipment.
“My kids still have a dad and I was pretty driven, I worked my ass off in rehab,” he says. “Just because my body doesn’t work, I might not be able to show my kids much, but I can still teach them.”
Loring says his determination in rehab means he didn’t keep up with friends as much as he might have, but he appreciates them and the community that raised $16,000 to help with expenses.
And he looks forward to the future with determination, hope and excitement.
“Even with this level of restriction, I can pretty much do all the things I did before,” he says, citing travel in particular. “All the things I hoped for before are still here, they’re just different.”