Man lifted by community after paralyzing fall
EAST BERLIN, Pa. (AP) — Something happened to Dave Meixner this summer.
It was after he fell in his driveway and after his body became paralyzed. He wasn’t aware of it at first because it happened slowly, as each person in his circle learned about his life-changing injury.
One by one, they lifted him.
“The outpouring of everyone is almost more overwhelming than anything else,” said Dave’s wife, Rebecca of East Berlin. “There is light in dark places.”
The dark place was the accident on July 6, a stumble in his driveway that led to paralysis from his chest down, and the words of a doctor that hurt deeply, Dave remembers: “You’ll never be the same. You’ll never be able to do the same things you did before.”
Those were the last words Dave heard before he went into the surgery that doctors said was his only hope to ever walk again.
But there is light, too: His extended family sought donations, and they poured in. Cards came from all over the community. People brought food and cleaned up the garden in their backyard. Then, there was more, more than Dave and Rebecca could ever imagine, more than Dave believed anyone would ever do for him. It’s so overwhelming that he can’t talk about it without tears. Generosity beyond the imagination.
There’s a reason for it, though.
Karma of kindness
Dave worked 50 to 60 hours a week in heating and air conditioning and rarely came home at day’s end. He’d stop at the homes of friends and acquaintances who needed something repaired.
He once told Rebecca: “Helping people is my church.”
When a couple of positions opened on the East Berlin borough council, a friend talked Dave and his neighbor, Anne Geiger, into running. The election was just a few days away, but they did it as a write-in campaign and both won.
“He is, if you ask anyone, the hardest-working person on earth,” Rebecca said.
For the last few years, Dave would organize his children, Fritz and Lilli, around building a Halloween walk-through in their yard. They usually started the project in August.
“Dave is just selfless,” Rebecca said. “He just gives everything to us. He wanted nothing but whatever we wanted to do.”
As active as Dave was, he had developed arthritis in his neck, and without knowing it, a pressure was starting to build on his spinal cord.
A ‘perfect storm’
The Meixners lived at Lake Meade about 16 years ago, until they found a Civil War-era home in East Berlin. They stayed at the lake only about a year, but they had already made lifelong friends.
Those are the friends who had invited Rebecca and Dave to a crab feast on July 6. Fritz, who just graduated from Bermudian Springs High School, joined them at the feast and served as designated driver.
Around midnight, when Fritz pulled their car into the driveway, he and his mom went into the house to get ready for bed. Dave had been drinking, but he was the one who would clean up when the family arrived home, no matter the hour. The cooler was in the trunk, so he would just retrieve it and go inside.
But he never made it.
He tripped on the way, falling forward without breaking his fall, landing on his face. With arthritis in his neck already bearing down on his spinal cord, he might have simply needed surgery at some point to relieve the pressure, he said. Instead, landing on the ground injured the cord.
“So the fall was the perfect storm,” Dave said.
As he lay on the ground, he didn’t know what was wrong with him. All he knew was that he couldn’t move his legs, couldn’t make his hand work to get his phone out of his pocket.
He had a single thought: Just get to the house. So, he dragged himself toward it.
“I felt trapped out there,” Dave said.
In minutes, his neighbors found him with a broken nose, bloody face, and unable to stand. He asked one of them to get some cold water and splash it on his face. That was all he needed, he thought.
Light in the darkness
As family members and friends recalled their visits to Dave at York Hospital that first day, they each told a similar story: They walked in believing he must have broken a leg or an arm. None believed that rock-steady Dave had anything more serious wrong with him.
This was the man who solved every problem, fixed every broken appliance, helped every needy neighbor and rebuilt the bathroom in his house. He could be quiet or quite talkative, depending on the subject.
He and Rebecca have been together since she was in college. They share a great sense of humor. He is the builder; she is the artist. Their world revolves around their children, both active volunteers in the community.
This is what everyone knew of Dave, but as each person arrived at the hospital, they saw a man whose life had come so close to the edge. The trauma was quickly apparent.
Doctors told the Meixners that spinal cord injuries cause low blood pressure. Dave’s pressure was so low that he could have died in his driveway.
This turn in his life was sharp. One minute, he was enjoying the holiday, and the next, he was hanging on by a thread.
“Life is fragile,” Dave said.
In those first few hours they had to decide whether he should have surgery.
The doctor had told Dave: If you don’t do this, you will never have movement from the chest down. The answer was easy: Yes.
Surgery relieved the pressure on his spinal cord and uncovered that the fall had caused an “incomplete” C7 vertebrae, which caused the paralysis and a burning sensation in his upper body, Rebecca said.
As word of Dave’s accident spread from a family member to a friend to a neighbor to another neighbor, the decisions for his circle were clear: We must help Dave.
Lifting Dave Meixner
Back in June, the Meixners had visited Utah for a wedding.
Rebecca’s brother, Wesley O’Keefe, had three days of celebration planned for his guests. Dave watched people arrive from all over the country and commented on the number of people who had traveled so far.
Dave said: “He has way more friends than I do.”
He sees that differently now.
In a crisis, a universe of friends, strangers, neighbors and family swarm into a circle around people who feel devastated. It happened quickly for the Meixners.
Rebecca’s sister, Brook Craddock, arrived from her home in California within 24 hours. Wesley flew to Pennsylvania to drive Fritz to the University of Montana, where he needed to start his freshman year.
Their dentist helped by paying off Lilli’s braces and performing a root canal on Rebecca pro bono.
An email went out at Dave’s work, Spangler and Boyer Mechanical in Thomasville, alerting the employees about what happened. Immediately, they raised $4,000 for the Meixners. Whatever the employees donated, the owners agreed to match.
Then, the kicker: Chad Lamparter, vice president and part owner, said that the company would keep Dave and his family on the insurance plan. He also created an office job for Dave when he’s ready to return.
“We’re family here,” Lamparter said. “I just figured when he’s ready to come back to work ... we’re bringing him back.”
“The owner said he’d drive to my house and pick me up every day and take me to work,” Dave said through tears. “I’ve not even worked there more than 18 months.”
Even the community of East Berlin has created its own new tribe around Dave’s injury.
“It’s like a horrible, beautiful thing. Rebecca keeps talking about that,” Anne Geiger said. “It’s like it’s creating this whole community of people. It’s why we’re here, and we need to be looking out for each other.”
Communities so easily divide over political differences or the priorities of its residents, but those walls broke quickly when Dave fell. “Team Meixner” was born, and its motto created: We are the village 17316.
Anne and her husband, Walt Geiger, have become the “Ninjas” to Rebecca, stealthily mowing the lawn, clipping hedges, cleaning up the vegetable garden and making food.
“We’ve had some tragedies in my family, and I learned that you don’t ask them what they need. You just jump in and do what needs to be done,” Anne said.
The Meixner’s historic home is also under construction, as Dave will need a wheelchair-accessible bedroom and bathroom, all being handled by Rebecca’s stepfather, Gene Gonder of Gettysburg, as well as Spangler and Boyer.
Trinity Lutheran Church in East Berlin has organized a team of painters to finish off the rooms, and the church donated $2,500 from its Mission in Motion fund.
“People are good,” Rebecca said.
Fundraisers have been and continue to be organized: A Dog Days of Summer Benefit on Sept. 1 is the next event planned, organized by Team Meixner, a small army of friends.
“I guess, since this accident, there’s people I haven’t talked to in a long time who’ve come forward,” Dave said. “I guess it’s an eye opener to me that I’ve touched a lot of people.”
A man visited Dave’s hospital room recently to tell his story: He, too, had suffered a spinal cord injury. He, too, had been paralyzed, diving into a wave at Dewey Beach. And he learned to walk again.
The man is a peer mentor, who, like Dave, recovered at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, where Dave undergoes intense physical and occupational therapy. That will end in about a week, when Dave returns home to East Berlin.
Dave and Rebecca are both worried about his return home -- in different ways.
Dave’s stay is ending because insurance won’t keep him there any longer. The insurance company declined their initial request for a therapy schedule at Hershey Medical Center. It would have been six hours a day, four days a week, Rebecca said.
Instead, the insurance company offered therapy two to three times a week at home, she said.
“The more therapy you get after an injury, the research shows, that the more likely you get a better outcome,” said Kiley Cruit, a physical therapist at Magee.
Dave is making good progress. Last week, he took his first steps -- with just a walker -- in the hallway of the hospital. He can’t feel his legs or feet, so he describes it as the sensation of floating. Another hopeful sign is the tingling sensation he feels in his legs and feet. He can move his arms, but he has no feeling in part of his hands and up a portion of both arms.
“I am nervous to go home,” Dave said. “I’ve had so much care here. I don’t want to put pressure on my wife to be a nurse now.”
In addition, their finances have been drastically cut. Dave’s job and overtime afforded them a comfortable life.
Rebecca stayed home to raise their children and created a small business along the way, Sweet Invitations, hand-drawn wedding invitations and stationery that she sells on Etsy.
It’s been so successful that she has worked with Martha Stewart and had her designs published in Cosmopolitan and New York Magazine, but it’s always been a rainy day fund.
She’s grappling with how she’ll carry a bigger burden for their family.
“We lost our dad in a water skiing accident when I was 16 . so I have always raised the kids like today is the last day,” she said. “We are going to make the most out of this. So they’re OK. We’ve got this. We’re gonna keep on keepin’ on.”
Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com