Desire to take care of family motivates paralyzed father to give his all in therapy
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service

To help John Adam Long ready for the birth of his second son, therapists at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson had the Louisville nurse practice feeding, burping and diapering a baby doll.

After the birth of their baby on Nov. 26, John Adam and Amanda Long of Louisville proudly introduced their new addition to the staff of the spinal cord injury floor at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. From left are therapeutic recreation therapist Courtney Jones, physical therapist Ann Howard and John Adam, Amanda and Hayden Ace Long.

As he lay trapped in the wreckage of an overturned Volkswagen Beetle, emergency room nurse John Adam Long could tell something was “bad wrong.”

He thought of his wife, Amanda, seven months pregnant with their second son. And of his firstborn, Tristan, whose first birthday was just two days away. Then he asked a bystander to call his home.

“He got on the phone and told me he thought he was going to die,” Amanda said. “And he told me he loved me and to take care of our baby.”

Amanda called her father, and he drove her to the wreck scene. Then they followed the ambulance to Winston Medical Center in Louisville, where staff there prepped their paralyzed coworker for a helicopter flight to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

At UMC, surgeons used metal plates and cadaver bones to piece together the shattered vertebra in John Adam’s neck and upper back. And in the days that followed, everything was about the 30-year-old’s survival. “We were so preoccupied, it was hard to think about anything else,” Amanda said.

But as Amanda’s due date got closer, their thoughts turned to getting John Adam ready for fatherhood as a quadriplegic. And the hunt was on for a rehab center where he could recover as much ability as possible.

“We had somebody do research on the places that were accredited in spinal cord injury rehabilitation,” Amanda said. “And we found Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson was the only one in the state. We pushed really hard to go there.”

“I knew what I needed was to work hard,” John Adam said. But he admits to some trepidation when he first rolled into the therapy gym on Methodist Rehab’s spinal cord injury floor on Oct. 20. “I was so scared. You hear horror stories that they are going to kill you. They push and push and push. But it has been one good ride.”

MRC physical therapist Ann Howard said John Adam’s happy-go-lucky personality helped him make the most of therapy. “He seemed like he was accepting of the injury from the beginning. He was really motivated the whole time and never complained.”

John Adam says the way he looks at it is: “I could be dead. Now that I’m here, I’ve just got to get better. I’m too young to give up. My motivation is taking care of my family. ”

As the time neared for his wife’s scheduled Nov. 26 C-section, John Adam asked MRC occupational therapist Bridgett Pelts what he could do to ensure he bonded with his new son.

And by the next day, she had him trying his hand at feeding, burping and diapering a baby doll. “He loved it,” Pelts said. “He said it almost made him cry.”

Tears did flow on the day of his baby’s birth, as the family celebrated a joyous moment that John Adam feared he might never see.

“I went in the delivery room, and they parked me by my wife,” he said. “I got to hold the baby right after he was born. It was a very emotional event. I cried all day. It was kind of hard not staying.”

Back at rehab, John Adam returned to the gym for more daddy-duty practice, this time with a heavier baby doll. Pelts added some weight after she learned that Hayden Ace Long was a hefty 9 pounds, 5 ounces.

The Longs headed home on Nov. 30, and John Adam said he feels more than ever that “everything is going to be all right.”

“I’ve got a loving wife who has been a rock,” he said. And thanks to all he learned at MRC, he and Amanda feel confident of his ability to be a good father.

“Now we see he can do things he used to do – just sitting down,” Amanda said.

“With a lot of hard work and a lot of support, you can find ways to do things,” Pelts said. “We tell everybody all the time that you can do the same things as other people. You just might have to find a different way.”