Becoming a Dad after SCI: Eric’s Story

My name is Eric Anderson, and I am 37 years old and have quadriplegia. I currently live in Drexel Hill, PA with my wife (Karalyn Anderson) and daughter (Miley Love Anderson).  We have been married coming up on 9 years in September.  We met while at a wheelchair rugby tournament at Widener University.  Karalyn was a graduate student working on her physical therapy doctorate, and I was an athlete on the rugby team.  We didn’t actually become friends and start dating until after Karalyn started volunteering as support staff for Magee’s wheelchair rugby team.  I have been working with the School District for 12 years now in the Information Systems department.

In 1997, I suffered a C6 spinal fracture while wrestling around with my brother on Memorial Day in North Wildwood , NJ. The accident left me paralyzed from the chest down and with limited hand function.  I was initially treated at Cape May County hospital then flown to Jefferson University hospital in Philadelphia where I had a spinal fusion and acute rehab.  When I was well enough, I was transferred to Magee when I started the grueling task of learning to live with a spinal cord injury.  Life has been dramatically different ever since that day.

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Eric and Miley

My wife Karalyn currently works at Maris Grove in Glen Mils as a Physical Therapist, and Miley is now three years old.  Starting a family with a spinal cord injury can be a process filled with obstacles and disappointments which require the patience of a saint.  I have a better appreciation for what Karalyn had to go through to get pregnant with Miley. My love for her grew exponentially. As with any normal pregnancy we had our good days and bad.  We had a lot of doctor’s appointments, some with disappointing news, and some with good news.  I am not saying this to discourage people from trying to start a family but to inform them.  Miley was born on November 24, 2012, small but healthy, and that’s all we prayed for.

After suffering a spinal cord injury, I thought being a father was not in my future.  I was only 18 when I was injured, and I really hadn’t thought of children before then.  I knew that I wanted them at some point in my life.  The first hurdle for me was getting used to the idea of being with someone. I was self conscious about my injury.  After meeting Karalyn, I was comfortable with myself, and we were able to have a great relationship.  After a year or so of dating, we were married on September 22, 2007.  The thought of becoming a Dad was now more prevalent.  The reality was frightening.

Being a father is an amazing feeling, it is also scary at the same time.  When Miley was born, I had this instant unconditional love and responsibility to protect her.  At the same time, I felt anxiety because now I am now responsible for this tiny person.   It is no longer about me, but now about Miley, and making sure she has everything thing she needs to succeed in life: providing a loving home, teaching her responsibilities. hoping we have done enough so she will make the right decisions when presented with tough choices.  In the end, being a father is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it is also the most rewarding.  The pride I feel when my daughter hugs me and tells me that she loves me gets me emotional every time.

There have been many challenges being a father with a spinal cord injury.  Having little hand function makes the easiest tasks difficult.  Helping my wife with Miley when she was an infant posed the greatest challenge because she was so small.  Just picking Miley up without core muscle was difficult, impossible sometimes.  Getting Miley dressed was out of the question because the cloths were so petite.  As time went on, I learned to do things just a little different, and it got a little easier.  When Miley got a little older, she would help me with some tasks.  For example, when changing her diaper, I would ask her to hold her legs in the air so I could clean her and slide the diaper under.  The more she grew up, the more helpful she became.  At three years old, she is one of the most independent toddlers I know. I guess this is from having to help me so much.  We adapted Miley crib to have a door so that I could get her in and out.  There is not much else we had to adapt, I just had to modify the way I took care of Miley.

The most important thing I’ve learned from being a parent is to put my needs aside and put my family’s first.  Also, I know what I do now will help mold Miley into a responsible adolescent.  I love you, Karalyn and Miley.

Guest Author: Eric Anderson

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Eric, Miley, and Karalyn

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