For most people, being able to stand and walk freely is something they often take for granted. It takes minimal effort, and it’s just a reflex. What would your world look like if suddenly your ability to walk was taken from you? Portland Police Officer Paul Meyer saw exactly what life was like after being injured on the job. He also, years after being paralyzed in a terrible accident, learned to use technology to walk again to accept the biggest promotion of his career.
Meyer was injured when a tree fell onto an ATV he was riding during a training exercise four years ago. While he has recovered enough to return to work with the Portland Police Department, the accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. The injury meant many changes for Meyer, but this did not change his desire to work for the Police Department.
Meyer joined the ranks of officers at the age of 22. He enjoyed lots of success with the force and quickly moved into a tactical role. In 2012, he was training on an ATV when the unthinkable occurred. According to a report about the initial injury:
“The top half of a tree the size of a telephone pole snapped in the wind and smashed onto the top of his helmet and back with incredible force. The impact crushed his spine. Surgeons eventually pieced it back together but the nerves were shot. He’d never walk again.”
Meyer spent 51 days in the hospital and from day one he was supported by his brothers and sisters on the force. Throughout the extended hospital stay, a police guard was standing outside of his room around the clock. Some days they were a silent support system and others they were a motivational piece to push Meyer in his physical therapy. Meyer spent countless hours in rehab attempting to regain some of his abilities; he described one session as:
“Day 15, I tried to go through my first therapy session and I couldn’t make it. I couldn’t make it through. Couldn’t make it through any of it. It just tore me up and I remember the next day calling my wife, bawling. Going, ‘I can’t, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know how I’m going to work this?’ And she said, ‘Who is outside? Call them in! I’m on the way.’”
The officer convinced Meyer to ease up, to forget his old fit self, and focus on progress over the next year.
“I was never alone. Even through my whole stay in the hospital. I was there 51 days,” he said.”
The injured officer was able to regain enough strength to return to work. With the support of his family, and coworkers, Meyer joined the Professional Standards Division. This is the part of the force that deals with officers that have had too many complaints or concerns over using too much force.
Even though his field work was not longer an option, Meyer quickly adapted to the new position and recently was up for a promotion. Part of the typical ceremony to be promoted is standing to receive the award and participating in the ceremony.
Meyer uses a wheelchair for mobility, but in this case, he was determined to stand to receive his promotion. This amazing task was not easy, it was a result of many hours of physical training, research about the medical equipment he might be able to use to stand and a training program to become certified to use the device.
“ReWalk is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that provides powered hip and knee motion to enable individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) to stand upright, walk, turn, and climb and descend stairs*. ReWalk is the first exoskeleton to receive FDA clearance for personal and rehabilitation use in the United States.”
Just as Meyer fought to recover from the injury that took him off the job for many months, he also struggled to be able to do something as simple as walk across the stage and stand to receive his promotion. While the ceremony alone was pretty typical, the fact that the audience was standing room only filled with many members of Meyer’s family and co-workers showed how many shared in this fantastic event. Many tears were shed that afternoon as everyone watched silently as the ReWalk hummed and worked to support Meyer as he did complete what he set out to do. He was able to walk and stand proudly with a firm handshake as he was awarded the promotion.