Sun Prairie native writes miraculous recovery story
Sun Prairie Star
By Sharyn Alden – Special to The Star
Once in a while you come across a true story that might have you asking, ‘What would my family have done in similar circumstances?’
We would like to think that all families would rally around a family member like the Spahns did when young Bill was diagnosed as a quadriplegic. Their commitment to help Bill walk again is considered by many as miraculous.
Spahn’s book focuses on the tragic 1975 accident that nearly took the life of her brother. The Spahns built a wall of endearing love and support around young Bill. They rejected the diagnosis that he would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.
Bill not only drowned when he dove into the lake, he also broke his neck. His father was the first who refused to accept the prognosis. The other family members followed suit and agreed they would do anything they could to help Bill walk again.
Spahn said that if reading about Bill’s story saves even one person’s life, it will be well worth the eight years she spent writing and researching her book while she was working full-time in another endeavor.
Drownings and water-wise facts
In winter, just like in summer, families vacationing where there are indoor and outdoor pools and water parks need to be reminded of water safety.
Spahn wants to remind people, that in the heat of the moment, when kids and families are having fun, there are dangers related to diving, swimming and drowning. “Before I researched drowning, diving and spinal cord injuries for the book, I was very naïve about potential dangers relating to these water sports,” she said.
According to the Center for Diseases Control (CDC), drowning is the number one cause of unintentional death for children ages 1 to 4. Additionally, about 390 deaths annually are attributed to drownings in a swimming pool.
“Small children can drown in just 2 inches of water in a bathtub or pool,” Spahn said. “Drowning is typically caused by accidents, dehydration, leg cramps, and no supervision around the swimming area.”
When she talks about drowning in her book, she refers to pertinent facts about this tragic demise in the book, The Perfect Storm (and subsequent movie) by Sebastion Junger which describes the tragic consequences of being forced underwater beyond a safe time limit.
This year, more than 100 people have drowned in the Great Lakes making it the deadliest year in a decade. That’s according to a tally by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, a nonprofit water safety group that keeps a comprehensive database of Great Lakes drownings.
Tie all this together and studies have found young males are most likely to drown from diving accidents as well as swimming injuries or accidents.
Spahn said, “My book is about the choices we all have in our lives and the lasting impact on individuals and families. It is also a story about how a superb support system around you can make all the difference in the world when the life you once knew feels like it is over.”
Slowly, one day at a time, sometimes even just one minute at a time, Bill learned how to regain his life with the constant help from his family and a gifted physical therapist.
Months after being hospitalized he was able to walk. Later, he became a successful businessman and entrepreneur and also had a popular TV fishing show.
Against all odds
Spahn writes in a gripping, almost thriller-like genre in describing her family’s love that encircled Bill after his accident
Each chapter of the story is hauntingly told in a first-person narrative from family members, including the author, and the far-reaching skills of a devoted physical therapist who never gave up.
Besides shining a light on her brother’s miraculous ability to walk again and being able to shed the word “quadriplegic” her book shines a light on the family’s love for each other.
Their “never give up” attitude is considered by many to have made a pivotal difference in helping Bill, now 56, achieve a well-lived life.
How did they help Bill when experts said walking again wasn’t possible?
“We never told my brother he wouldn’t walk again,” said Spahn. “We never used the words ‘paralyzed’ or ‘quadriplegic.’ What we did say was, ‘When you get out of here…’ Not one of us ever believed my brother would not walk out of the hospital. Even after months of being with him and not seeing a lot of improvement, we never believed he wouldn’t walk again.”
Spahn said her sister Karen quit her job to be with Bill. “She would have a stuffed animal talk to Bill, and bring him written notes from her dog to read to him. Her mantra was, ‘Move your big toe, Billy, just move your big toe.’ She had given our brother CPR when he drowned, that tragic day, and she pulled him from the water,” Spahn said. “She saved his life.”
Spahn noted the hero of the story, though, is her dad. “He never quit believing in what Bill could accomplish. He worked all day, and even invented things the hospital didn’t have. This ultimately helped strengthened Bill’s muscles and prevented him from succumbing to drop foot.”
When Bill’s father, Bill, Sr., was first given his son’s prognosis, he prayed to God in the hospital chapel that if Bill was able to walk again, he would never miss another Mass. “He has kept that promise for 43 years except when he and Bill go fishing in Canada and there are no churches nearby.”
A few months after the accident, still weak and without full control of his limbs, Bill was now walking but he needed strengthening.
Spahn said the family exercised him hourly. “We stretched his legs over his head and massaged his arms. We just did it. No one asked why we were doing it–it was unsaid. It was what dad did. So when dad was at work, and we were there, we did it.”
She added that when you are in the moment, you don’t think how lucky you are to have the parents you have.
“I loved my parents, my brother and sisters before the accidents, but never thought about why,” Spahn said. “During the process of helping Bill walk again, we rallied around what needed to be done; we never looked back”.
Bill never stopped believing in himself.
“At 12 years-old, he showed more courage than any child I had ever seen,” Spahn said. “One of the saddest days was when he realized he would never play football for the Green Bay Packers. It was his dream and our dream for him,” she said.
While many families wouldn’t spring back from the type of adversity the Spahns went through, it only goes to show, when you deeply love and care about one another anything is possible, when you never give up.
For more information on drowning, paralysis and spinal cord injuries or to purchase Never Give Up, visit Spahn’s website: https://bluewolfpublishing.com.