Josh Horky's Spirit of Recovery After a Spinal Cord Injury

Less than three weeks after the fall that fractured his back and permanently paralyzed him from the chest down, Josh Horky was planning a Valentine's Day dinner surprise for his wife, Whitney. A successful surprise, too, because he did it all from his hospital bed.

"I lined it up with Va Bene the day before, and my friends brought in all this food and a fancy tablecloth. It was great," said Horky with the laugh that punctuates much of his conversation. "And that was the first place we went after I got out of the hospital. I even weaned myself off of painkillers early so I could have a glass of wine."

Josh will admit it wasn't easy and that the pain was almost unbearable, but he credits attitude and the "awesome" caregivers at both Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center, where he spent six weeks in recovery, and Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation Services at Essentia Health Duluth, where he continued his rehabilitation.

"I have no choice," Josh says of his injury.

"I live this way or I die. So I live positively."

He found the same sort of outlook in his therapists. "They were just like me and loved to joke around. We had a heck of a good time. I had to relearn everything from brushing my teeth to boosting myself into a chair, and they did an exceptional job teaching and retraining me. They're incredible people—all of them—I just love them."

Josh spent hours each day in physical and occupational inpatient therapy at Essentia's Miller-Dwan rehabilitation unit and, now, as an outpatient, receives training on how to maneuver his new wheelchair. Once he's comfortable moving around, he hopes to go back to school to learn a new career, a challenge he sees as daunting but not insurmountable.

"I was a botanist, and I loved going up a cliff to find a really cool plant, or climbing a tree—like the one I fell from—to get a sample or something. But I have two 18" titanium rods in my back, and I'm broken forever. I need to retool myself so I can be productive in society and with my wife."

Josh believes he'll get there and, like his caregivers, he'll do it with the right attitude.

"I'll admit that as things have been greening up this spring, it's been pretty tough on the botanist side of me," he said, sitting in the sun on the porch of his Duluth home. "But you can't be negative. If you're negative, you're not going to get anywhere."