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.”