As a former firefighter and father of three, Steven P. Christians always had an active lifestyle. When he wasn’t fighting fires, Steven ventured outdoors, spending his free time fishing, hunting, or camping. However, Steven’s life took a drastic turn when doctors found a syrinx, a fluid-filled cyst, in his spinal cord.
At age 35, Steven underwent several surgeries and treatments to save his spinal cord from further injury. But in only the course of four months, the cyst inevitably caused irreparable damage and Steven was paralyzed from the chest down.
Eighteen years later, Steven reflects on the challenges he has overcome and how his yearlong recovery at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital provided encouragement during his journey.
Steven was very determined during his stay in the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Mary Free Bed. During and after recovering from his surgeries, he spent the majority time completing recreational, occupational, and physical therapy. Adjusting to his new life in a wheelchair was overwhelming, but Steven found some sense of relief to being active and was encouraged with the therapy he received.
“I had a great experience at Mary Free Bed,” Steven explained. “It’s not only a place to rebuild your strength; it’s also a place to build lasting relationships.”
These lasting relationships even encouraged David’s wife to join the Mary Free Bed team as a nurse’s technician.
When Steven returned home, he encountered some new challenges with using a wheelchair.
“All of my hobbies that I liked to do were ones that I could do alone,” said Steven. “I used to go hunting and fishing often, so I felt like I could never get time to myself.”
Steven began sinking into a deep depression. Instead of letting his feelings consume him, Steven persevered to maintain a different, but normal life.
To keep busy, Steven started taking creative writing classes. What began as an easy college credit, turned into a kind of recreational therapy. Steven he found solace in getting his inner thoughts out on paper, and it was an activity that he could manage alone.
“I like to write both fiction and non-fiction about subjects that I know that will evoke thought from the audience,” Steven said. “It’s a way to deal with depression as well as the struggles of day to day life.”
A Second Chance
After more than 10 years without hunting or fishing, Steven finally had the opportunity to go on a hunting trip. While he was apprehensive at first, his wife insisted. He hasn’t missed a hunting season since.
“I finally realized that my old life in the great outdoors wasn’t over,” Steven remembers. “Now, I just have a different way of doing the hobbies I enjoy.”
Since being reintroduced to the hobbies he loves, Steven decided to encourage others with disabilities to break out of the wheelchair stereotype and participate in activities they enjoy.
“The key is to find your passion and be grateful for the life you do have and to not let a disability affect the joy you can get out of life,” Steven explained.
Steven continues his involvement with numerous community programs, including a group of wheelchair hunters, as well as the local planning commission for the parks and recreation department. His disability has brought him new perspectives that others may not have.
In addition to his community involvement, Steven is passionate about modifying sports and recreational equipment to suit the needs of individuals with disabilities without having to purchase a factory modified version. He would love to find a way to modify his wheelchair to go out into the woods and fields, and plans to introduce a modified wheelchair accessible camper in the near future.
Even after 18 years, Steven still maintains relationships with some of the staff at Mary Free Bed. When he’s not busy writing, hunting, or being involved with the community, Steven will come back to Mary Free Bed to catch up with his old friends who gave him his initial steps into his new life. Steven also offers support to current patients who have found themselves in a wheelchair.
“You can do this,” Steven tells them. “Just get out there and do something.”
Steven spends all the time he can with his wife, three children, and nine grandchildren. In March of 2012, Steven’s writings were published in a book titled, True & False: The Dreams, Thoughts, Life, & Lies, Of an Aspiring Lunatic. The book is a compilation of David’s short stories and poems that covers subjects ranging from hunting, to farming, to firefighting, to life in general.