SALT LAKE CITY — One month after a snowboarding accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, Cody Walker smiled for the camera as a friend caught him performing his own small miracle: moving his legs up and down in his hospital bed.
"You're basically walking laying down. You gonna walk out of here?" a friend asked. Walker replied, "I'm gonna walk out of here."
No one close to Walker doubts those words, according to Zack Hackett, a friend who was with Walker on the Lake Tahoe snowboarding trip that ended with a jump going wrong and Walker lying on the ground, having broken multiple vertebrae and both hips.
After multiple surgeries, Walker started therapy, determined to return home to his wife and two children, even in a wheelchair. With another child coming in a few months, Walker was determined to be able to hold the new baby.
"When we got there, he couldn't move, and after one day of therapy, he could wiggle his toes," Hackett said. "After two days of therapy he could kind of shake his legs back and forth a bit. They said if his hips weren't broken, they'd have him standing up right now trying to walk."
Monday night, Cody Walker felt the love of his community in a spectacular night out of the hospital. He and a handful of his lifelong friends gathered at Butler Middle School to raise money help pay for his recovery.
"It just speaks volumes," Walker said. "You look at what's going on behind me, and that says it all. I didn't do any of this."
The event was open to the general public and included a dinner, silent auctions and a raffle.
"The insurance is covering the bulk of what he has to deal with, but they've only allotted for 15 days of inpatient rehab, and his doctors are saying he needs at least 60," said Justin Brown, Walker's friend.
Though he still has a long road ahead of him, Walker is determined to make a full recovery.
"I'm confident that I'll get on my legs again, because they are there and ready to go," he said.
In all, Walker's friends say they raised nearly $45,000 Monday night. For information on how you can help, visit the Support Cody Facebook page.*
Walker's doctors at the University Medical Center rehab facility have been amazed with how quickly he is regaining movement after such a severe accident, Hackett said. On Friday, Walker lifted his legs to put his feet on his wheelchair footrest. And when his 3-year-old son, Max, was sitting on his lap, he was able to "kind of put his arm around him."
Walker's wife, Lori, brings the couple's two children to the hospital every day to visit. Friends sign up for shifts to spend the night with Walker, and have organized a benefit to help with medical costs insurance won't cover. Strangers have contacted the group wanting to donate money for bills or items and services for the auction.
"I've had calls and emails from people who don't even know who said, ‘I've been following your story, I've been touched by it and I want to help somehow,' " Hackett said. "A lot of people have just come up to me and said, ‘I really hope your friend is doing better.' "
As friends, family and strangers have rallied around Walker since the accident, those closest to him have seen it affect their own lives.
"It's miraculous that he's recovering the way he is, and it's miraculous that he has all this support," Hackett said. "On the first day after this happened, he said to me, ‘I don't know why this had to happen, but it's going to impact a lot more people than we know.' And I've just seen that happen with so many people."
He said his friends have been brought closer together because of the accident and have realized how much they care for one another. Attitudes have changed as those touched by the story have spent one more hour with their children or stayed late at work one less day.
"It's a tragic, tragic situation, but i've seen a lot of lives impacted in a good way by what has happened," Hackett said. "It's changed my perspective that way. It's also changed my belief in the good nature of people. There are so many people out there who want to help and want to do good, whether they know him or not."
Walker is determined to pay it forward, though. For someone so used to being there for others, it is difficult to accept sacrifices on his behalf, Hackett said. And it gets discouraging to have so little use of a body over which he once had complete control.
"To have had your body so mastered and then not be able to move your leg or not be able to get your fingers to pick up a pencil, it's just really frustrating sometimes," Hackett said. "He's doing well, and he's making everyone around him better — and what I'm trying to tell him is that he doesn't owe anyone anything. He would be doing the same thing for anyone else."
Determined to show his gratitude for the sacrifices of friends, family and strangers, though, Walker plans on starting a nonprofit organization to help others in a similar situation — after he focuses on healing himself.
"He said, ‘I want to help other people,' " Hackett said. "All these people that have helped me, when I get better, I'm going to dedicate time to helping other people."
*ksl.com has not verified the accuracy of the information provided with respect to the account nor does ksl.com assure that the monies deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.