Austin man wake skates after paralyzing accident

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by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN GUSKY

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on March 20, 2013 at 6:30 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 21 at 12:33 PM

AUSTIN -- A year ago, Nathan Beels was 30 years old, on his motorcycle, and almost back at his Barton Hills home.

"Another car came up the other side of the hill," said Beels. "We met in the middle, and that was pretty much it."

Beels spent the next three weeks in a coma.

"I had tubes coming out of everywhere and hooked up to every machine you can think of," he said.  "The first thing I noticed is that I had a tracheotomy so I couldn't talk."  

Not talking was the least of his problems. His pelvis had been shattered. Bone fragments shot into some of his organs. A broken bone in his neck left him partially paralyzed, and his left leg was so shattered doctors had to amputate it below the knee.

"I think everybody in that situation would have the same type of pity parties for themselves," said Beels.

Beels got plenty of support from his family and friends as well as therapists at St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital.

He began his rehab in a wheelchair. He progressed to using only a walker. Then on December 2, 2012, just six months after beginning his rehab, Beels was fitted with a prosthetic device and began walking.

"It was at that point and time I told everybody I was going wake skate before the year was up," said Beels.  

Beels says there were some believers and doubters, but true to his word, he was back up and on the chilly water before the end of December.

"Without St. David's I wouldn't be wake skating," said Beels. "I wouldn't be walking around as easily as I am now, so I am forever grateful."

St. David's is grateful to Beels for giving other rehab patients hope.

"Sometimes they just don't believe they can achieve that level of improvement," said Dr. Juan Latorre, the medical director of the Spinal Cord Injury and Amputee Program at St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital. "That's what we need to show patients -- that's there's potential, and there's life, and there's plenty of opportunities after a trauma like the one he had."

"If my getting stronger helps other people get stronger then that's awesome," said Beels. "I can't ask for anything more."

Beels used to work as a graphic designer, but says he's now seriously considering a field where he could help motivate other amputees and serious accident victims.

Click here for more information on St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital.

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