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People - Walking With Anthony

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2017

Immediately after his accident, Anthony’s family was told he wouldn’t get any better. But he had family support and the drive of his mother, who says she was determined to get him better.

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Walking With Anthony

When Anthony Purcell’s mom, Micki, told him she wanted to start a foundation, he thought she was crazy. In 2010, at age 22, he’d broken his neck and fractured his C5 and C6 vertebrae in a diving accident.

“I was definitely not into it,” he says. “[The first year to year and a half after a spinal-cord injury], you’re extremely depressed. You can’t go get a soda at 7-Eleven. You’re stuck in your room, wondering what’s going to happen next.”

But Micki says her suggestion was meant to keep Anthony’s mind going and that got him out of his depression, realizing they were helping people by starting the Walking With Anthony foundation.

Attitude Shift

In the five years since Walking With Anthony (walkingwithanthony.org) was founded, the Purcells say they’ve been able to help 13 people in various ways. The goal is to help fund rehab for spinal-cord injuries (SCI), which alone can cost $100,000 a year, as well as support families with home renovations, wheelchairs and other equipment and material needs. They partner with rehab centers and other organizations around the country to meet families’ needs. Immediately after his accident, Anthony’s family was told he wouldn’t get any better. But he had family support and the drive of his mother, who says she was determined to get him better. Micki says the rehab center she found got Anthony back on his feet. He has graduated from a power chair to a manual chair and can walk with the help of braces. He’s gone back to work, and he’s getting married this year. Micki says they’ve proven the system wrong. Anthony credits the foundation and his mother with helping his overall rehab efforts. 

“Once I got better mentally, once you rehab your mind, then you can start focusing on your physical attributes,” Anthony says. 

He says it shifted his attitude, too. 

“We started adding these [foundation] events. People came up to me to say thank you so much. And I started to realize, how selfish am I, to care about myself when these other people are suffering? And you are kind of the tunnel that’s helping them move forward,” Anthony says. 

More Than Research

Anthony notes that many nonprofits are looking to fund research, while Walking With Anthony offers more direct help.

“Research is important,” he says. “But we want to get in there right away. Anything we can possibly do to make their life better, we do it immediately.”

Walking With Anthony raises money through local galas around the country, as well as an annual golf tournament in Fairfax, Va., with support from the NFL’s Washington Redskins Alumni and Charitable Foundation, including players, managers and cheerleaders. The foundation was also selected last February as a beneficiary of former NFL coach and sports broadcaster Jimmy Johnson’s “Quest for the Ring” Championship Fishing Week, an annual event held in Key Largo, Fla., and Anthony was stunned to find out he was also being honored with the Jimmy Johnson Annual Ring of Honor Courage Award by Johnson himself. 

“It was amazing — total shell-shock,” Anthony says.  

He attended the event and says he spoke in front of about 500 people. After speaking, many of the attendees pledged donations to Walking With Anthony, which were estimated at $100,000. 

“I was honored and thankful that people were ready to donate,” Anthony says.

The Purcells say every penny goes to help people with SCI and their families — nobody is paid a salary. While Anthony says the ultimate goal would be to walk again, unassisted, he wants to help as many people as possible, and he would take that a million times over walking.

“Hopefully when I’m gone, the foundation will still be going,” Anthony says. 

Like Family

The Purcells know firsthand how difficult it can be to cope with SCI, both for those who are injured and their families. While they feel immediate and long-term rehab are vital, the Purcells also want to support families in other ways. Micki tends to focus on helping and mentoring family members, while Anthony reaches out to the injured person, who is often young. 

“Everyone we’ve helped has become like family,” Micki says. 

Erica Predum, a single mother from Indiana who was injured in a rollover accident in 2007, agrees. She connected with Walking With Anthony in 2014, and the foundation has provided emotional support as well as help purchasing equipment, including a manual wheelchair and modified truck. 

“Thanks to them, my quality of life is continually being enhanced, helping ease the financial and emotional struggles I live with,” Predum says.

On Sept. 25, the foundation’s annual golf tournament will be held at the Country Club of Fairfax in Fairfax, Va., with the Washington Redskins Alumni and the Redskins Charitable Foundation supporting them. But the golf tournament isn’t the only thing on Anthony’s mind this fall — he’s also getting married in October. He and his fiancée, Karen, attended the same high school, but he says they never spoke. He messaged her on Facebook one day and finally got up the nerve to meet her for a date. 

“One of my first thoughts [after the accident] was, ‘Am I gonna have a family, am I gonna be normal?’ ” Anthony says. “I want people to know that it’s possible to fall in love and live your life and be normal.”

 

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People - Walking With Anthony

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