On December 18, 2001, my husband, Bill Lavner, was paralyzed during an operation for a cancerous tumor on his spine.
The doctor approached me with tears in his eyes to tell me something had gone wrong and that my husband was unable to move. I felt faint, then angry, and later a profound sadness. I could not tell my children for two days because they had tests at school and I did not want to upset them, so I conjured up my acting abilities. When the moment came and my sixteen-year-old daughter inquired innocently how her father was doing, I took a deep breath and told her the truth. She burst out crying and I felt helpless to protect her from the deep pain she would experience.
My husband stayed at the first hospital for one month, during which he almost died three times. By the end of that month, he asked me to have his last rights read to him. Bill no longer wanted to live; he could only move his head and shoulders and was at the end of his ability to withstand. The patients’ rights representative and I convinced him that it was too early in his recovery to make such a decision. He listened and from some deep place summoned the courage to continue. He was then transferred to Mt. Sinai Hospital where he stayed for one more month. Up until that point, no one with real knowledge of what it meant to be a quadriplegic had approached me or helped me to understand what my husband and I were facing.
At Mt. Sinai, Dr. Adam Stein told me about Fran Brown and her Foundation. I called The Alan T Brown Foundation To Cure Paralysis and spoke to the first person who really understood exactly what I was experiencing. Fran’s son had also been paralyzed and she reached out and let me know that I was not alone with this overwhelming task. We met for lunch and she gave me many people to contact who could offer me information and support down this rocky road.
After two more months in the hospital, my husband had recovered enough to come home. Our family—two teenage children and two cats—was ecstatic to have Bill back home with us. Only the cats were not so happy, because they were afraid of his wheelchair. Bill has begun to use his arms and we pray for a few fingers. We now have a van that gives Bill mobility and we continue to normalize his life and strengthen his ability to be more and more effective in the world. I remain in contact with the Foundation and have now started to help other people in the same situation. The support that I received from the Foundation was invaluable and has given me the strength to go on.
Thank you to The Alan T Brown Foundation.
Sara Lavner is a psychotherapist who resides with her family in New York City. In the months since her husband’s injury, Sara has become an active and valued member of the Foundation’s Outreach Team, sharing her experiences and lending meaningful support to the newly injured and their families.