Adjusting to life after a spinal cord injury can be hard for anyone, but Howard Cox has overcome the additional obstacles and is finally living his life one day at a time.
At 51, Cox exemplifies the true meaning of a military service veteran’s strength, determination and willpower. During Howard’s 10-year career in the Marine Corps as a recorder for Special Courts Martial, he suffered pain in his lower back, which military doctors diagnosed as two slipped discs. Howard refused their suggested surgery and dealt with the pain until, while working with his father one day in 2006, after his discharge from the Marine Corps, he fell off a ladder. Howard felt no pain for a week, then suddenly collapsed and went into a four-day coma. When he regained consciousness, Howard was told he was paralyzed from the waist down.
“The last and only time it hit me – not being able to walk – was when I attempted to climb out of the tub for the first time by myself and I fell,” he said. “I called my sister and cried hysterically, telling her that I am going to be like this for the rest of my life.”
“But I then realized it could have been a lot worse, when seeing another veteran in the hospital ringing for a nurse to come in to scratch his ear. He was paralyzed from the neck down,” Howard said. “From that point, God showed me the way to stay in his good graces and I began to believe that I can continue to live with this condition.”
Howard is now a sophomore at Baltimore City Community College, majoring in office administration. He is scheduled to graduate with an associate degree in the spring and plans to transfer to Coppin State University to complete a bachelor of science program in Social Work.
This past summer, Howard participated in the 3rd National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego. The clinic specializes in the rehabilitation of body and spirit by teaching summer sporting activities to veterans with significant physical or psychological impairments. The program features adaptive surfing, cycling (hand and tandem), track and field events and kayaking.
“Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses,” Howard said. “It’s really fun to know that I can rock climb, as well as see people helping each other through the many challenges they face.”
The summer clinic is open to all veterans who are eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs medical care and who have orthopedic amputations, traumatic brain injuries, burn injuries, psychological trauma, neurological conditions, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries and other injuries which occurred in the last six years.
Howard is working with Regina Kennedy, chief of the Prosthetic Treatment Center of Maryland, to acquire a bike so he can begin training as a cyclist in Paralympics and other paraplegic events. “I hope people can say, ‘You know what? If Howard Cox can go to school and ….live his dreams while paralyzed, then I can get out and do the same,” he said.
Howard credits his involvement in church with helping him keep the positive attitude and allowing him to avoid the depression faced by many who suffer a life-changing injury. Howard said he also benefitted from being the son of a preacher and already having a close relationship with God before his injury.
“Only I can tell myself that I am handicapped,” he said.