It's been five years since Chris Norton took the hit that would change his life. As those who've followed his story know, Chris was injured as a freshman playing football at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. While attempting to make a tackle during kickoff coverage, he was knocked to the ground. This time, he didn't get back up. Chris was taken from the field on a stretcher and airlifted to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, where he was diagnosed with a fractured neck and compressed spinal cord. Doctors initially suspected he had less than a 3 percent chance of regaining feeling or movement below the neck. In an instant, Chris went from getting his first taste of independence to having to rely on others for all of his needs. And if he could turn back the clock, Chris tells us he wouldn't change a thing.
"I've seen what my life has evolved to since then," he says. "I've had so many blessings. I've had so many opportunities to help people and influence them in a positive way. If I hadn't gotten hurt, I don't think I would have had the same opportunities." Opportunities like starting the SCI CAN Foundation, turning the girl of his dreams into his fiancée, walking (yes, walking) across the stage to receive his college diploma, and sharing his message of hope through speaking engagements.
And now, he's published The Power of Faith When Tragedy Strikes: A Father-Son Memoir, co-written with his dad, Terry. The book, which includes a forward by legendary college football coach Urban Meyer, "recounts a young man's seemingly insurmountable quest to regain movement in every part of his body, and a father's struggle to be the rock his son and family lean on."
Initially, much of that quest took place at Mayo Clinic, where Chris "had access to the people, the resources, and the equipment to recover as much as possible." Chris tells us that many of those people, including physical therapist Megan Gill, now a member of the SCI CAN Foundation board, became like part of his family. "I was with those people in the rehab unit every single day," he says. "They played a really instrumental role in my life and where I am now. It's hard to put into words how much they've given to me."
One of the most important things his Mayo care team gave him, Chris says, is hope. And it's a gift he'd encourage all caregivers to share with their patients. "Always leave room for hope," he says. When discussing a prognosis, "leave things open ended. Don't put a cap on things. The words you hear as a patient really matter, especially when you're in a vulnerable position," he says, adding that "miracles happen every day. Even if it's just one case." Chris tells us that "miracle stories" have given him "hope and strength" throughout his recovery. So he's especially happy to be able to share a miracle story of his own: a video that shows just how far he's come since October 2010. (You might want to have a tissue handy.)
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