RALEIGH — Two years ago, on a visit to Kure Beach, David Jeffers noticed a big wave headed his way.
He dove under the water to avoid being toppled, just the way he had countless times before. But as soon as he was through the wave, Jeffers knew something was wrong.
He tried to swim for a moment, but couldn’t. He couldn’t move at all.
Jeffers managed to stay calm and hold his breath until he surfaced and called for help.
As his family gathered around him, Jeffers remembers asking where his toddler son, Jaxon, was, wanting to know if he was safe. He remembers apologizing to his wife, who was pregnant at the time, already knowing how much their lives were about to change.
A helicopter arrived to take Jeffers to the hospital for surgery. He felt like he was in a sandstorm. From there, the day gets hazy.
Nearly a week later, Jeffers left the hospital as a quadriplegic. He had a broken neck, or what doctors call an incomplete spinal cord injury, one that left him with little or no feeling below his chest and, at that point, no arm movement.
Support from Raleigh
Jeffers, 35, lives in Charlotte, but he grew up in Raleigh and graduated from Enloe High School and N.C. A&T State University. He worked in the automotive industry as a mechanical engineer.
Since the accident, a group of friends and acquaintances here have rallied to support him with a series of fundraisers. A 5K race and family fun day are planned for Oct. 5 at Anderson Point Park.
Alex Wilson, a friend of Jeffers since high school, said it was a given that he and others would do all they could to help. Jeffers always made Wilson feel like he could do anything, a role he played for many of their friends.
It’s part of why people have come from Virginia, Washington and New York and farther for the fundraisers, Wilson said.
“I would expect nothing less than people to come from halfway across the country,” said Wilson, who can’t say enough about how much he admires Jeffers as a friend, engineer and father.
Since the accident, Jeffers has been through round after round of therapy. He’s had to get used to needing help, rather than always being the go-to guy for family and friends.
It’s hard to be unable to play with his son, now 4, the way he used to or to take care of his son Brody, who is 20 months, the way he wants to. But, at the same time, they’re inspiration to keep going, day by day.
“I don’t want them to see me down and out,” Jeffers said.
Today, after extensive and continued therapy, Jeffers has some movement in his arms and wrists. He hopes to grow strong enough soon to move his body from place to place – the wheelchair to the car or couch – without the help of a lift.
And he would like to move from a power wheelchair to a manual one, because he said he’s found there’s a stigma that comes with the former. People often talk to his wife, instead of him, as if he can’t understand or isn’t even there.
In the long term, Jeffers hasn’t given up on walking again. But there are things that he thinks would make an even bigger difference in his life, such as having greater motion in his hands or control of his bowels and bladder.
Those are the kinds of difficulties people often don’t think about when they see him, Jeffers said. It’s not just about not being able to walk.
Furthermore, it’s not just the physical challenges. Jeffers and his family also have to navigate the emotions that come with living a life they never expected, the endless paperwork and the mounting bills.
When people offer a kind word, their time or a donation, it helps lessen those burdens.
“It motivates me a lot when I feel like I can’t do it anymore,” he said. “I can’t thank people enough for what they’ve done.”