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Josh Heine, 27, stands where he crashed a car nine years earlier, leaving a gash in the tree and him a quadriplegic for life.

Just a Wheelchair

story by Srijita Chattopadhyay

Our lives are a series of defining moments. On Oct. 18, 2007, Josh Heine experienced a moment that defined the rest of his life.

It was a perfect Monday morning and Heine had borrowed his father’s Porsche to meet his then-girlfriend at the hospital. The night before, they found out she was pregnant. Confused and unsure about this new chapter of his life, he was driving fast when he lost control of the car and hit a tree.

“I got ejected 52 feet and was immediately paralyzed from the neck down,” he says. “I was lying there dying. I was going to die. It felt so good for me to close my eyes. I was sleepy and all the pain will be gone. As if someone was rubbing the back of my head saying, ‘It's okay. Just let go. It's fine.’ And I am like – No! Not letting go.”

Josh was just 18.

He was transported to Lourdes Hospital within minutes of the accident. After 14 hours of surgery, Heine woke up to the news that his paralysis was permanent. For two years, he blamed himself.

“I almost took my own life," he says. "And that is the only time I ever contemplated that, where I just told myself that I wish I had died instead of living my life this way. That was so stupid and naïve that I would even say that."

The day of the accident will always be burned deep in Josh's memory: the shrieking of the sirens; the whispering crowd; the cracking of his spine. But, impossible is a word he defies. The scars of the accident now lie hidden beneath colorful inked trophies of his achievement.

Josh now attends West Kentucky Community and Technical College, where he is earning an associate's degree. He hopes to complete his bachelor's degree at Murray State University. He aspires to have a career helping other people with spinal cord injuries.

Josh tries to lead a regular life. He races in wheelchair marathons, models for the wheelchair maker Quickie and fathers his 8-year-old son, Brody Heine. “It's just a wheelchair,” he says. “It's not me as a person. It is just how I get from point A to point B.”


Josh thinks none of the everyday tasks he must perform are impossible. Climbing out of bed in the morning is a struggle sometimes, but he always finds a way to do it. "I am unique," he says. "I do not have difficulties. I am not weak or incapable."


"I try not to think about it," Josh says of his accident. "But, it is a part of me. And it is always there." He often reflects on the progress he has made. Realizing that nothing is impossible is what keeps him moving forward.


After intensive rehabilitation at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Josh came out with the ability to pull himself up and even ambulate a few feet with the support of other stationary objects around him.


Josh has made his body a canvas to reflect his achievements since the accident with the ink across his collar bone being one of his favorites. "The tattoo says �never underestimate impossible,�" he says. "My father bought me this tattoo for the first Father's Day after the accident."


Josh, a student at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, attends a developmental psychology class. He is working toward an associate's degree and hopes to earn his bachelor's degree from Murray State University. "I go to school because I want to have a career, just like the rest," he says. "I do not want to live off government checks."


Josh cracks up as he watches his nephew dance to "Cheap Thrills" by Sia on SnapChat.


Josh prefers to travel around town by rolling himself in his wheelchair. Rolling to school, the gym and other nearby places is good exercise and a form of stress relief.


Whenever Josh feels tightness in his torso, he goes to Energy Fitness to walk on the treadmill. The accident mostly affected the left side of his body, making it difficult for him to step correctly when he walks.


Josh sits down after his workout routine of a six-mile roll on the road and a seven-minute walk on the treadmill.


"I went through so much of rehab," Josh says. "So many people telling me what to do, when to eat, when to do this, when to do that. It was just draining me. Finally, was done with all the rehab. They said that you reached what you are going to get, which is great. I could stand. I could walk." Josh has been living in this apartment at Highland Terrace for two years and enjoys having his space.

14 of 70 stories