From Paralysis to Peak: Jay Stevens’ Journey

Jay Stevens Everest Base CampJay Stevens’ incredible odyssey from grappling with paralysis to setting his sights on summiting Everest is not merely a tale of human resilience but also a profound lesson in financial adaptability. His saga showcases unwavering determination and sheds light on the formidable financial hurdles he surmounted while pursuing this monumental endeavour.

The Pivot Point

Working as a medical device sales professional for more than 10 years, Jay (then 32 years old) earned a helicopter flight over Uluru in 2018. Unfortunately, the helicopter crashed from 150 metres up in the sky, causing severe injury to Jay’s spinal cord, in addition to a broken sternum, ribs, hips, lungs, lacerations and bruises. The site of the spinal cord injury is known as a “T12/L1 ” which is where your leg nerves start, rendering Jay paraplegic almost instantly, and he was told he would never walk again.

An Expensive Emergency

Initially brought to Adelaide Hospital for emergency surgery to, in Jay’s words “get put back together,” he stayed there for about two and a half weeks at a cost of $60-$65,000 – luckily covered by insurance. From there he was transferred to Royal North Shore back in NSW (which Jay clarified was by a fixed wing Careflight airplane, not a helicopter!) where he spent another month in recovery (~$90,000). He was then taken to Ryde Hospital for four and a half months where they basically taught him how to live using a wheelchair and do day-to-day life (~$135,000 at approx. $1,000/day).

As Jay’s family rented their home at the time, they needed to find a more appropriate place to live that could be fitted out with modifications. In the interim the accommodation expenses were an additional $21,000 (not to mention the cost of the modifications to the new rental property once they found one).

All up, what Jay thought would be a simple work outing delayed his return home to his family by six months and cost more than $300,000 in medical care and rehabilitation.

“That’s the hardest part,” recalls Jay. “I had an 18 month old son at the time and a wife who was left to put back the pieces, and try and explain why Dad’s gone.”

Good News During a Tough Recovery

On a positive note, Jay and his wife learned they were expecting a bit of a miracle baby. This proved to be a challenge as she was very pregnant with an 18 month old and had to shoulder basically all the responsibilities at home. As Jay notes, “When you do have an accident, everything is only about you – not the secondary people that are affected. There’s so many consequences you never even think of, especially months and years later. There wasn’t a pot of money sitting there to help out with anything for the rest of the family like additional help or mental health services.”

Jay highlights that there were some services geared to help him adjust when he first came back home, and particularly found EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) therapy beneficial for his recovery which is designed to reduce the impact of trauma memories and help relieve post traumatic stress symptoms.

“I did that for 3-4 years after the accident and I still do a bit of it now. My mental health was affecting my family and they can’t go in and fix that stuff for you, you’ve gotta do the work the right way and with professional help. I’ve come full circle now, and it’s been really positive because I’m able to speak about my experience in detail when I’m asked to speak at events and such.”

Setting the Bar Higher

As a self-confessed ‘Type A’ personality, one of Jay’s biggest frustrations in his recovery was around the level of expectations being far too low for his ambitions. The goal of the rehab hospital is to mostly get you used to your day-to-day life in a wheelchair, but Jay said “I know I’ve had a serious injury, but I’m here to walk and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get there. I just wanted more out of my rehab and recovery.”

“Most of your recovery and progress is a curve, and then it plateaus after nine to fifteen months. I was towards the end of that and I barely had anything. I think the doctor put me in the ‘too hard’ basket.”

So Jay found himself a trainer to work with that specialised in his type of recovery and also did a lot of self education and training, to learn how to think about things and do things differently. He used a variety of methods and experts, from Pilates techniques to acupuncture.

Jay’s journey to recovery wasn’t marked by sudden leaps but rather by incremental progress over three and a half grueling years. “It was a slow and arduous process,” Jay reflects, “but every small improvement felt like a victory.”

After ten months he regained use of his bladder – a literal and metaphorical relief, he jokes.

“The treatments were working for me, but I had to fight for these specialists and alternative therapies to be covered by insurance. It was a full time job just dealing with the claims and insurance side of things, not to mention driving three or four hours return three times a week to get to these appointments. I’d insist on meeting with my insurance case manager in person just so they could see who I was and what I was about, and look them in the eye and see the type of person I was dealing with as well. I said ‘look, guys, I’m not gonna ask you for anything over and above. I’m not here to take you for a ride, but one thing I will push on is the kind of rehab that will help me get outdoors and doing stuff with my family. Those are the two big things.”

Jay was able to demonstrate that he was a really active person pre-accident through evidence of his sporting activities, and photos from active family holidays. Recommendations from his doctors noted how beneficial it would be for his mental health and his family if he could still do some of these activities in a modified way.

The Turning Point

One pivotal moment for Jay came when he gained access to a specialised treadmill with harness support, a breakthrough in his rehabilitation journey.

“Using the treadmill was a game-changer,” Jay reflects. “It allowed me to work on my mobility in a controlled environment. It gave me a break from the neurological fatigue I had from doing things like repetitive single leg exercises.”

In between physical training, Jay would watch trail running videos of people with Go Pros on their heads to try and envision what it would feel like if your legs and arms were moving to try and train his mind as well.

“I was racing my new bub to see who was going to be the first to walk. I think he beat me by about a year.”

The Road to Everest

Another video Jay watched while in hospital, a documentary on Everest, helped plant the seed for him to eventually undertake his big hike.

“I was gutted because I’d never gone there and done it, and at the time I was worried that I might not be able to.”

Starting with just a few steps at a time, and with the right gear and equipment, Jay worked his way up to 200 metres. It took 18 months to build up to being able to walk a kilometre or two. Jay worked hard to achieve his biggest goal of walking his kids to and from school (500 metres round trip) without the use of his wheelchair.

“Once I could do 10 kilometres at once, I started thinking, ‘I might be a shot here, of doing something pretty big.'”

Looking Ahead

Not content to rest on his laurels, Jay continues to defy the odds and inspire others with his resilience. When asked ‘What’s your next Everest?’ Jay reckons he might just take on a 50 kilometre Gold Coast race.

Jay Stevens‘ remarkable journey serves as a poignant reminder that overcoming adversity requires not only physical resilience but also mental adaptability and a financial safety net. Through perseverance, determination, and a willingness to confront challenges head-on, Jay has transformed obstacles into opportunities.

Please remember that the information above is provided as general advice only. The contents have been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. You should, before you make any decision regarding any information, strategies or products mentioned on this website, consult your own financial advisor to consider whether that is appropriate having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.

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