By Shelley Grieshop
It was a typical warm summer day in July when 22-year-old Cory Canan and a group of friends decided to go for a swim in Grand Lake.
The temperature had risen to the mid-80s and the view from their pontoon anchored about 50 yards off shore near Anderson Point, looked inviting. But as the young man dove into the water, his head struck the unusually hard lake floor and he immediately felt his arms and legs go numb. Frightfully aware of his surroundings, he watched as his body floated helplessly in the shallow water, his face resting just below the surface.
"I was upside down in the water for a while," says Canan, in a telephone interview from his room at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.
A friend quickly rushed to his side, he recalls, and flipped him over so he could breathe.
"I told him I couldn't feel anything," he adds. His friends used cushions from the pontoon to keep him gently afloat until others returned with his father and uncle from the state park campground, a few minutes away. His uncle quickly called 911.
"I stayed pretty calm," Canan adds.
He was loaded onto a safety patrol boat and picked up by an ambulance waiting at the dock.
The Covington man, fresh out of college and eager to start his new job this year as music director at New Knoxville Local Schools, is paralyzed from his chest down. Doctors say he injured his fifth vertebrae and fractured numbers six and seven near his neck, which put pressure on his spinal cord.
During an operation two days after the accident on July 21, surgeons replaced the damaged vertebrae with bones from a bone bank and inserted a titanium plate to relieve the pressure, he explains.
"Time will tell," he says of his prognosis, adding he has gained mobility in his arms and shoulders since that fateful day.
The Bradford High School graduate is beginning his fourth week at the Dayton hospital. He spends about six hours each day in intense therapy and his rehabilitation has been remarkable, his caregivers say. He began as a patient in intensive care, was transferred days later to the neuroscience wing and onto the rehabilitation ward in six days -- a feat few patients accomplish, he was told.
"When we were leaving ICU after just three days, a nurse began clapping. My dad asked why and she said no one ever leaves IC that quickly and looking so good," he says.
About 11,000 people injure their spinal cord each year, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) database. The majority of SCI cases involve males in their late 30's. Most SCI's occur in vehicle crashes (47.5 percent); diving accidents and recreational sports account for just 6.8 percent of occurrences.
Canan, who currently wears a neck halo, remains upbeat and positive, even comical at times. His mother, Karen Canan, says her son appears to be handling matters better than those around him.
After the accident, Cory told his father that Karen might need to be the one sedated.
It's difficult for Karen and Ron Canan to watch their son "tough out" painful therapy sessions without promise he'll ever regain feeling in his legs, she says. But the support they continue to receive keeps them going, they say.
"The first three days in the hospital, his friends stayed around the clock. They slept on the floors, in the corridors, wherever they weren't in the way," Karen Canan says.
Sixty people crammed into the hospital's waiting room the day of the surgery and prayed, she adds.
Neighbors mow their lawn and keep their home tidy and friends bring them food and clothing. Cory remains on prayer chains around the country, Karen Canan says, fighting back tears.
"We appreciate the support and prayers from everyone and the generous outpouring from people we don't even know," she says.
The couple refuse to leave their child's side.
"That's what parents do. We live here now," she says matter-of-factly.
On the eve of the accident, Cory Canan met with New Knoxville band students and later that night relayed his excitement to his parents when he met them at the campground, Karen Canan recalls. Days after the accident, Cory's friends voluntarily took over his role at band camp. One of those friends, Erin Stankey of Columbus, was hired by the school as a long-term substitute for Canan, who was placed on a two-year unpaid leave of absence.
The family says they're blessed each day by the kindness of others who have not forgotten their plight. Friends videotaped the New Knoxville band performing in the Celina Lake Festival parade and gave the tape to Canan. The Versailles High School marching band has promised extra practice for each hour of therapy their former assistant marching band director endures.
Former professors from Ohio Northern University, high school teachers and college friends visit him frequently. His only sibling, big brother, Casey, and his wife and children, also have made the hospital their second home. Cory's 2-year-old niece, Rylee, who can't pronounce her "C's" well, calls the contraption on her uncle's head, "Tory's hat," and is convinced he wears the halo because the angels are watching over him.
Cory Canan says he hopes to go home in four to six weeks; he may begin online courses to earn a master's degree while he recovers.
A spinal cord "has a mind of its own," his mother says, and could take more than a year to actually heal.
"We watch his strength return a little each day," she says. "For now, that's all we can do."