Freak Accident Results in Paralysis for Toledo Native (Toledo City Paper)
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Toledo couple Jason Finn and Jeni Belt face the hurdles of a sudden spinal injury that resulted in paralysis from the neck down.
The lives of Jason Finn and Jeni Belt were forever changed by a freak accident, just days after Jason’s 47th birthday, while they were vacationing in Puerto Rico. Finn cannot recall the details of the event, but friends and family theorize that a strong wave knocked him off of his boogie board, thrusting him against the ocean floor, knocking him unconscious and breaking his neck. A Puerto Rican native, Marty Formariz Escanellas, noticed his body floating lifelessly in the water, and she rescued him and summoned the help of strangers, who performed CPR. The doctors in Puerto Rico did not immediately realize Finn had a broken neck or spinal cord injury; once they did, they performed surgery in an attempt to stabilize the spine and prevent further injury. Since then, the couple’s lives have been a whirlwind of rehabilitation and drastic life changes in order to accommodate Finn’s C5 spinal cord injury, which means he is paralyzed from the chest down with limited movement in his left arm, thus confined to a motorized wheelchair.
Belt explains, “Our life, as we knew it, was decimated in an instant, so we’re still in shock from that. The people who we were are gone. I look at pictures from before the accident and think, ‘We aren’t those people anymore.’”
Finn and Belt agree that the community response to their misfortune has been overwhelmingly positive. Finn likens his community to building an Amish barn building: “The community has really come together...I have friends I didn’t even know I had. They all came together and basically built our house to make it possible for me to live here.” Finn laughs, “It makes me feel like the luckiest quadriplegic in the world!” Belt adds, “Good friends, family, and strangers donated hours and hours of labor and material to get us home.” Unfortunately, Northwest Ohio has limited resources for those suffering from spinal cord injuries (SCI). The nearest SCI rehabilitation center is at University of Michigan; the next closest is Walk the Line in Southfield, Michigan. Finn and Belt chose to work with the latter, even though it’s a 3 hour round trip drive, because they do not follow the rules of traditional rehab.
Belt elaborates, “Walk the Line was started by a woman who has a C6 spinal cord injury. All her doctors said, ‘That’s all we can do for you. You won’t regain any additional movement.’ She believed that if you work on the whole body you can find opportunities for sensations using weight bearing exercises. Now, even though she has a C6 injury, she is in a manual chair with trunk control and transfer ability.”
However, therapy is expensive. Finn has both private insurance and Medicaid, yet insurance only covered his initial 7 weeks of rehabilitation. Belt expounds, “Basically insurance said, ‘He’s not demonstrating improvement, so essentially it’s not worth it to cover more [rehabilitation].’” Outpatient therapy for three days a week at Walk the Line averages to $75k/year. On top of that, they spent $36k to fly him home, $35k for the elevator to make their house wheelchair accessible, $40k for their car, $55k for home modifications, and other various expenses along the way.
Yet Finn and Belt have aspirations for the future. Finn is anxious to start his rehabilitation with the hopes of regaining some motion. He says, “I hate being a burden to everyone. I have to ask someone to pull my hair back or get a bug off of my nose. I would love to get my two arms working and my wrist and fingers. That would change the world. Legs would just be an incredible bonus on top of that. Just having fingers on one hand working would be amazing. Basically I need to just have more functionality so I’m not so needy.”
Belt adds, “The love that we have for each other is very life affirming. There’s a light in Jason’s eyes and I believe we have good things to come. He has a stubborn, strong will and a unique perspective and a lot of love. We‘re going to do everything we can to achieve maximum recovery, whatever that may be.”