The lives of Vince Yackery and his family changed dramatically on April 29.
Yackery, 65, who moved from Darien to Norwalk's Rowayton neighborhood two years ago, had an accident while exercising at home that left him a quadriplegic, said his daughter, Christina Yackery.
The family, faced with mounting medical expenses that aren't covered by insurance, have scheduled a walkathon at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Rowayton Community Center on Highland Avenue.
"Originally, our goal was to get 50 to 100 people," Christina said. "At this point, the response has been greater than anticipated, so we're hoping to be prepared for 200. The money raised is all directly for his care."
Christina said her father, before the accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down, was healthy and fit and worked as a financial adviser at UBS after a career with Merrill Lynch that spanned 35 years.
"He's very eager to get back to work," she said.
She said right after her father told her and her sister that he couldn't move and was paralyzed, he said, "I have to get to work."
Vince was in Norwalk Hospital for 11 days and then in a rehabilitation center and a nursing home that offered physical therapy before returning home about four weeks ago. Christina said her father has a positive outlook on his recovery and was determined to walk again.
"His attitude is better than ever," she said. "That's what everyone is amazed by. He couldn't be more ... hopeful. He's the one saying, `Everything happens for a reason. All my prayers have been answered. God doesn't give us more than we can handle.' "
Christina said her father, who has five children and three grandchildren, believes his accident was the result of "divine intervention" and that its purpose was to bring his family closer together.
"On a good day, I will tell you, I agree with him," she said. "The friends and family that have come out and supported my dad have been so great. We really feel that out of such a tragedy, we have experienced so many blessings."
But Christina said her father isn't receiving enough physical therapy -- she said he's done hardly any since returning home -- and that the family has had to learn how to give him shots and change his catheter because the insurance company is covering only the most limited care. She said the family set up a bedroom on the first floor and installed a ramp to the front door for her father and hopes to raise money for more physical therapy appointments, modifications to his home, and a specialized car in which her father can travel to medical appointments. She said the family also would like to hire an aide for her father because her mother, Caroline, works.
"Right now, his focus has to be on getting physical therapy and rehabilitation because they say the first year is critical," Christina said. "He really needs 24/7 supervision and care."
Obie Harrington-Howes, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 1997 and who established a foundation to help people with those injuries, said physical therapy in the first year was vitally important because physical therapists can determine what muscles have movement and give exercises for those muscles.
"You're able to maximize your potential through really intense physical therapy in the first year," he said.
Harrington-Howes said Vince, whom he met when he was an inpatient at Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains, N.Y., was diagnosed as having an "incomplete injury," which he said meant signals from his brain were getting through the injury site.
"People with incomplete injuries, there's a chance they can regenerate some capability, but it doesn't happen magically," Harrington-Howes said. "You have to work at it ... and a lot of that can come back in the first year if you have a good occupational and physical therapist."
The Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation, established in 1998, helps people with spinal cord injuries by providing financial support and directing them to public resources. Harrington-Howes said the foundation has mostly provided Vince's family with information and emotional support, but also was prepared to help them financially.
Since its founding, the foundation has helped 250 people with spinal cord injuries and its financial support has helped them purchase, among other things, wheelchairs, beds, ramps, therapeutic leg braces, exercise equipment used in rehabilitation, computerized speech augmentation devices, minor home renovations and vehicles that enable them to return to work or school, according to the foundation's website.
Harrington-Howes said Vince had a good possibility of returning to work one day because of the field he is in. Harrington-Howes said he returned to work and is working full time for an investment management company.
"You have to choose where you're going to channel your energy," he said. "Where I chose to channel my energy is getting back to work. My company was generous in keeping my job open."
Harrington-Howes, who was diagnosed with a complete injury after a swimming accident at Jones Beach in New York, said he needs help getting out of bed, taking a shower and getting dressed, but is "pretty independent in the day" and can drive and feed himself.
"I work full time. I lead a pretty full life," he said.
He said Vince's positive attitude was great because if a quadriplegic doesn't have a positive attitude in the first year after his or her injury, it's unlikely to develop later on.
"I would say Vince, because of his attitude, has the best opportunity and he was athletic before it happened -- muscle memory is still there perhaps," Harrington-Howes said. "It's an evolving process. It's a slow process."
Christina said her family was very encouraged about the possibility of her father walking again when he was at Burke Rehabilitation Center because he was making progress and achieved some movement in his arms. She said doctors think it's possible he could walk with a walker someday, but her father believes he will be walking with a cane within a year.
"If I know my dad, when he puts his mind to something, he'll do it," she said. "My dad's name is Vince and we're calling it `The InVINCEble Project,' " she said. "The movie `Invincible' is my dad's new favorite movie. He wants to watch it every night with me."
Registration for the walkathon is at 10 a.m. at the Rowayton Community Center, though people can register at www.bitly/funwalkvy, which is a page on www.helphopelive.org, a nonprofit that also hosts an informational page about Vince and is able to receive donations in his name. The cost to register for the walkathon is $25, which Christina said would cover an hour of care for her father. Donations are tax-deductible.
"I hope the walkathon raises a lot of money for Vince and his family because it's extremely difficult," Harrington-Howes said of the expense. "Insurance doesn't cover a lot of things, so you end up with a lot of expenses."
The walkathon, which covers a scenic loop through Rowayton, also will have a raffle, silent auction, music and a food truck.