Toronto (Oct. 26, 2008) - Toronto Star columnist writes a 4-part series about a patient at Toronto Rehab's Lyndhurst Centre.

Some of us are born here; others come to satisfy a thirst or to seek some kind of refuge.

Cody Caldwell is passing through. He has not been here long. He hopes to go home soon

He is a young man from Peterborough. A year or so ago he moved to Calgary; weather's good there in the fall and what other reason does a young man need?

He found work, and his life was good and full of hope.

Last Canada Day, he made plans to go to Sylvan Lake to spend the long weekend with friends.

Sylvan Lake?

He said, "It's like Wasaga Beach. It's full of tourists and campers."

And girls?

"And girls." He laughed shyly.

After work, he packed a change of clothes and drove up to the lake.

"There's a strip of stores on one side of the road, and the lake and the beach on the other side. I got there around 5:30 p.m., met up with my buddies, dropped off my stuff and went to the beach."

He soaked up the sun for a while. "Then I went to dive in. It looked deeper than it was. I hit bottom."

He broke two vertebrae in his neck and a bone chip broke loose and cut into his spinal cord. We were talking at Toronto Rehab's Lyndhurst Centre, where they deal with spinal cord injuries.

He said, "I dove straight out, with my arms in front. When I came up I was dizzy; it felt like I was doing a barrel roll spin. I realized something was wrong. I couldn't move my legs. I was trying to get my balance. I was wondering how bad it was."

How bad is it?

Cody has mobility in his shoulders. He can move his head and use his right arm. His left hand is limp. He can't feel his legs.

"I was floating on my back. I tried to yell for help but my stomach muscles were gone - all that came out was a raspy whisper. I couldn't raise my arms to wave."

He had not been drinking.

His buddies noticed something was wrong; luckily, there was also an off-duty lifeguard nearby.

"She grabbed my head to keep it still. She told my friends to keep my hips steady. Somebody called an ambulance."

They took him to the nearest hospital in Red Deer.

"I was pretty scared. A lot of things go through your mind. I was cold from being in the water. I was shivering."

He wondered how things might have been if he'd stayed home.

They moved him from Red Deer to a trauma centre in Calgary. The drugs kicked in. He woke up with a halo screwed into his head, and a 20-pound weight hanging off the halo to keep his neck straight.

His folks flew in right away. There were tears. Then there was surgery to clean out the bone chips and fuse a couple of vertebrae. He spent six weeks in Calgary.

"I had the option to stay there, or to come back. It's better for me here, it's closer to home."

How's he doing?

"I try to stay positive. You have days where you get down. The more optimistic you are, the easier it is."

You can't help returning his grin.

Cody is adapting to life in his chair. He is doing weight training, physio and occupational therapy, and he is working on his motor skills and perfecting major movements, such as how to get in and out of bed, and how to get in and out of the shower. He's building up serious muscles.

Over the next few weeks, we'll see how his therapy goes.

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