It was supposed to be a quick run to Home Depot, so Tony Velasquez wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. When an oncoming car hit his truck, he remembers his head hitting the ceiling before his body ended up halfway on the passenger side amongst some cans of spray paint. In the moments following the accident, the 52-year-old Northglenn resident thought he’d broken both his arms and his legs because he couldn’t move them.

It wasn’t until paramedics started preparing to transport him that the truth about his injuries started to become apparent: Tony had severely compressed his spine and was now quadriplegic.

At North Suburban Medical Center, a Level II Trauma Center, surgeons operated on Tony’s spine, cutting out sections of vertebrae to allow his traumatized spinal cord space to swell. “No one knew how I’d respond or if I’d recover,” Tony said. “They just kept checking every day to see what I could do.”

Though he had sensation in his limbs – sometimes painfully amplified sensation – it was three days before he gained some limited movement of his arms. That was also about the time he was moved out of the trauma area to a regular room on the 4th floor. He was kept in a cervical collar for six weeks and was bed-bound the majority of that time.

But Tony started noticing small improvements quickly, helped along by physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT). After six weeks, he was allowed to sit up in bed, but it was several days before he could balance his torso upright without being supported.

Tony praises the physical and occupational therapists for the headway he made early on.

Though small, the daily improvements gave him hope. Meanwhile, the nurses, who Tony calls

“excellent,” made his well-being a priority.

They weren’t just compassionate, they were problem-solvers, listening to the information he provided and coming up with personalized solutions. He tells how a simple adjustment a nurse made to his catheter helped him avoid having a colostomy bag.

When Tony was discharged from North Suburban Medical Center, he entered an in-patient rehabilitation program for six weeks. He’s now walking with the aid of a walker and even climbing stairs. He’s back at home with his wife and mother and hopes to return to his construction work within a year. Despite everything he’s been through, Tony says he still feels like the same person.

“I thank my lucky stars,” he said. “It helps to see my progress. It gives me hope.”