I asked Josh Basile if he ever lost his voice. He said he did. “When I tried to swallow a completely round pill. The pill got stuck, EMTs got called and I was in the ambulance heading for the hospital. It was nowhere near as traumatic as when I first got paralyzed – I could breathe just fine – but I couldn’t talk. After about 3 hours my voice was back, but during that time I felt keenly for those unable to talk, to express their thoughts, their needs and insights.”
In 2004, Josh was 18 when he and his family were on a beach vacation in Delaware. A rouge wave flipped him upside down and threw him to the bottom of the ocean. His head hit the ocean floor and he was in the hospital for 4 weeks on a ventilator before he regained the ability to speak for himself.
“The first wave threw me on my head and I remember next hearing a loud cracking noise,” Josh remembers, as his eyes focus up and into the past. “The first time my voice was silenced I was in the water face down. I remember thinking ‘Why can’t I move my arms or legs?’ then I blacked out from a lack of oxygen.
“14 days later I woke up on a ventilator, followed by 2 weeks where I couldn’t speak but could only communicate by blinking my eyes once for yes and twice for no. I quickly went from being a 185-pound athlete to 135-pound quadriplegic in 5 weeks. My family was with me every single day through my 2 1/2 months of inpatient rehab. At first my friends were around, but as my sophomore year of college approached everyone headed back to school. Except me.”
“The early days of a spinal cord injury are the hardest. Getting matched up with the right mentor early on can change a person’s path forward. I will always remember Tim Strachan, a quadriplegic who was paralyzed 11 years before me on the same beach. Tim visited me at my childhood home during the first year of my injury and taught me to make my own opportunities; to never be afraid to ask for what I want.”
Not only was he a similar level of injury as Josh, but Tim had studied hard after his accident and eventually became an attorney. Certainly, a role model, and not just in the legal system. Josh told himself, “If Tim can do it so can I.”
“I get asked all the time how I navigate the paralysis game.” Josh admits, smiling faintly. “A lot is making the right friends. I realized that I need to work with my elected officials to make things happen. For example, I connected with my elected officials when they visited the outpatient rehabilitation at Kennedy Krieger – one of the best rehab facilities in the country, in my opinion.”
It’s a good thing that he made the right friends, because in the next breath he continues, “multiple times over the years I have received terrifying letters from the State trying to terminate my state-funded caregiving , but because of my relationships with my federal and state level elected officials I never am alone. When I needed to fight to keep my community nursing and attendant care hours, I had allies.” Instead of spending his days in a nursing home, Josh advocated for a different future with a different path forward.
“I make it a point to get myself in front of the people with the power to be a force for change.” Josh goes on to advise, “Share your story with your elected officials. Share a picture of yourself and your family to make your journey be more than words. Your face, your wheels, and your disability all tell your story. Let people know that you appreciate their public service and would love to get involved in the projects that matter to them. Building relationships strengthens the likelihood of success on future projects, when you may need their help the most.”
It worked for Josh. He shares his story again and again, trusting it will help others. He believes that sharing his story and making sure that his wheels are seen will change the way the world sees paralysis.
“I tested out the disability employment world through Ticket to Work and maintained my Social Security benefits for nine trial months while I got my working wheels wet. The experience convinced me that I can do a job that I love and keep the Medicaid benefits I need.
After the nine-month trial period ended, I enrolled in my state’s Medicaid buy-in program, which I still use to this day. This buy-in program allows me to keep my Medicaid eligibility despite my earnings. Keeping my Medicaid and Medicare help me in so many ways — it’s given me the chance to maintain my caregiving and receive a new power wheelchair every five years. Medicaid buy-in and other federal programs are available across the country, but every state is different and there are different options for keeping health care benefits while holding a job, depending on where you live.”
Attorney Josh Basile works as a medical malpractice attorney, fighting for people who have been catastrophically injured.I can see that Josh is happy, working as a medical malpractice attorney, fighting for people who have been catastrophically injured. He also works with United Spinal’s Pathways to Employment Program, and provides free one-on-one job mentoring through SPINALpedia.com and willingtoworkusa.com.
I ask about his life before the accident and Josh chuckles wryly, “That summer before my accident I was doing investment banking, stocks, golf – a completely different life. After my injury, I quickly learned what my voice – and drive – can do. I found my voice in a new way and started doing public speaking, one-on-one mentoring, and then giving back to the paralysis community every chance I could.
“One of my favorite things is the fact that of all the people around me, 95% of the time I am the one with the highest level of disability. I want them to say, ‘If Josh can do it, I can do it.’ The only person stopping you is you. It is all about approaching life with a willingness to try and a little confidence. That’s the perfect formula that leads to a lifetime of opportunities.”
In 2013, Josh graduated magna cum laude from law school and was admitted into the Maryland and DC legal bars.
“I saw a crisis happening with people right at the beginning of their new lives: when people with disabilities try to get back to work, they can often make mistakes that have catastrophic results. People end up losing their medical benefits – including their caregivers – and can even end up owing a bunch of money to Social Security in overpayments. Our community does not have to be alone and there are lots of disability employment programs that can help for free.”
“I started Determined2Heal.org in 2005 to help simplify the transition that helped me to find my voice and how to advocate with purpose.” The nonprofit’s mission is straightforward:
- To simplify the difficult transition into life with paralysis for injured persons and their support team.
- To inspire and empower the paralysis community through valuable information and rehabilitative outings.
- To support paralysis related research, technologies, projects and organizations.
In 2007, Josh followed that up by founding SPINALpedia, a video social mentoring network with over 17,000 videos that allows the SCI community to motivate each other, grounded in the common desire to overcome the challenges of paralysis. The motto of SPINALpedia echoes the way he has pulled himself forward in life: See it, Believe it, Do it.
About Cure Medical
I talk to Josh about the fact that Cure Medical donates 10% of their net income back to research for curing paralysis, and Josh’s voice swells with conviction.
“Finding a cure for paralysis is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. But the only way we are going to get there is if we throw dollars at it! That way we are giving back to the community and making it a better place for future generations. A business model like Cure Medical’s shows that they are really invested; that they really care.”
Josh pauses to think, then adds, “And we have to do it together. You see someone else doing something, it is easier to believe it is possible, and then to do it for yourself. See it, believe it, do it – the power of experience. Life becomes more doable by not having to reinvent the wheel.”
“After all,” the lawyer, motivational speaker and one-on-one mentor says, “Paralysis sucks, but that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh, live, and love life!”
Josh Basile can be reached at Josh.Basile@gmail.com or 703-795-5711.
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