After 2008 graduate Aaron Martinuzzi broke his neck diving into a pool in August, he was paralyzed from his shoulders down. He’s spent the past few months in rehabilitation trying to regain strength, but he looks at his life-changing spinal cord injury in a positive light.
“It’s been an exercise in patience,” he said.
After his Aug. 20 accident, Martinuzzi spent three weeks in a Biddeford, Maine hospital, where he got his respiratory functions back and did some simple occupational therapy (OT).
Since then, he’s moved to the University Hospital at the University of Michigan, where he is doing OT four to six times a day.
“Right now, due to the nature of my injury, I’m working toward really simple things,” Martinuzzi said. “I’m strong enough to use machines with really, really light weight. It’s not like I’m doing 30 pound bicep curls.”
Martinuzzi is mostly working on regaining the strength in his back and shoulders. One of his current goals is working to able to operate his wheel chair with a joystick. Currently he uses a “suck-n-blow” wheelchair, which moves the chair through either sucking or blowing air into a tube.
Even though the recovery process is slow and tedious, Martinuzzi said he is confident in his abilities. He specifically wants to gain strength in his hands and shoulders because that will help him become more capable in all areas, he said.
His ultimate goal is to be able to return to medical school at the University of New England, where he was working toward his doctorate of osteopathic medicine.
“Right now, I can see some significant gains, but I can’t predict what exactly will happen,” Martinuzzi said. “I just take it a day and a week at a time.”
He said his previous experience as an athlete has helped him keep a positive outlook on this while process.
“I swam in high school and was an avid climber”, he said. “I was always working on improving my performance. Rehab is sort of the exact same process.”
Support from family, friends and even people he has never met, has made the recovery process easier and helped him, he said.
His family created a Facebook page called “Friends of Aaron Martinuzzi” and they also made a page on caringbridge.org, where family and friends can give updates about the status of a loved one going through a challenging health issue, according to the website.
“I’ve always been someone that looks forward and doesn’t look back,” Martinuzzi said. “It’s nice to know that everyone else shares that attitude and can look forward to new goals.”
Some of his aunts have planned fundraisers to help cover some of the medical expenses. At their first event, a walk/run in October, a special donation was made in Martinuzzi’s honor.
“One of my aunts … knew that I loved to rock climb and ate a lot of Cliff Bars,” he said. “She contacted [the company] and showed them my mountain project page, which is like Facebook for climbers. They liked what they saw and donated 66 pounds of Cliff Bars to the event.”
Martinuzzi said he is grateful for the support he has and the progress he’s making.
“Everyone has been incredibly positive,” he said. “Every day I realize just how lucky I am.”