This story was originally published in July. Daniel Inglis, a paralyzed firefighter from Lacey township will be returning home on Thursday, Aug. 16.
With my favorite pair of jeans and sandals on, a glob of construction glue fell into my hair. Lynn Inglis, who I met for the first time earlier Tuesday, attempted to pull it out.
I was in a setting I had never been before and with a family like no other. The Inglis family is currently retrofitting their Lanoka Harbor home to accommodate their son Daniel, who is now a quadriplegic after suffering a spinal cord injury due to a Christmas Eve car accident.
I was the “glue girl.” With a glue gun in hand, balancing on a ladder — a day of many firsts — I set glue on the wooden beams so his father Daniel Inglis Sr. and three other volunteers could drywall what will be Daniel’s room come Tuesday, Aug. 13.
I had come a long way since three days earlier when I turned down a day of weeding in my own yard.
But this was a typical day in the lives of the Inglis family — leaving the home at 8:45 a.m. to trek more than an hour and a half to visit Daniel at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange and returning after 4 p.m. to work on one project or another, all the while in good spirits.
'Never Say Never'
Daniel's parents held hands on the way up to Kessler while Daniel’s sister Rachel-Lynn sang along to country tunes on the radio. The family cracked jokes for much of the ride.
“It’s life,” Lynn Inglis said of the family’s situation. Complaining isn’t an option. “It is what it is.”
Dressed in matching “Daniel’s Support” T-shirts with a logo depicting three interconnecting hearts — one for courage, the other for strength and the last for faith — the trio walked into Kessler like it was their home away from home. And that it has become.
The second floor of Kessler houses those stricken by spinal cord injuries. Daniel was in the midst of physical therapy when he smiled and playfully stuck his tongue out at his family.
Daniel joked about kicking his mother.
“Keep your hands to yourself,” she said.
“You never said anything about legs,” he replied.
The physical therapy room has more than 20 patients of varying ages, some practicing walking with walkers and others lifting their legs several times off the ground.
The family is currently undergoing training and discharge preparation to be equipped for Daniel’s return home. They’ll learn everything from how Daniel’s equipment functions and physical therapy lifts to everyday care techniques.
“We really bring the family in,” said Cindy, the occupational therapist for the day. “And we’re only a phone call away.”
Daniel is working toward mobility. The exercises he did on Tuesday consisted of muscle expansion and stretches and soft tissue massages. Cindy lifted his arm up and down.
His greatest challenge has been keeping his blood pressure and body properly regulated, Daniel said.
Daniel’s blood pressure had been low that day, causing him to ask the nurses to tilt his chair back for him.
The Kessler team sets goals for Daniel weekly, he said, although he is unaware of them.
“They’re just trying to regulate my blood pressure so I’ll be up to more things,” he said.
Daniel Inglis Sr. said Daniel’s doctors say he has defied all odds. To name a few, Daniel underwent multiple surgeries, had a damaged blood vessel, experienced cardiac arrest twice and had a severe abrasion to his head.
But nurses continued to encourage the family as they had seen real-life examples of when patients defied the doctor’s expectations, Daniel Inglis Sr. said. “Never say never,” they would say.
“He’s just so strong, his will,” Daniel Inglis Sr. said.
One inspiration? Eric LeGrand. LeGrand, a former Rutgers University football player and currently on the roster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, suffered a severe spinal injury during a game in 2010.
LeGrand is currently an outpatient at Kessler, undergoing a case study as he also works toward mobility. The exercise utilizes electro stimulation to move LeGrand’s legs while on a treadmill, Daniel Inglis Sr. said. If successful, Daniel could be next.
LeGrand also was in good spirits as we ran into him on our way to lunch. Although Daniel has yet to meet LeGrand, who donated a tilt table to the family, the Inglis’ and he have exchanged wristbands to support each other.
'He’s Still Here'
Daniel doesn’t remember much about his accident, just that he continuously apologized and thought he ruined Christmas.
“He was our Christmas present,” Rachel-Lynn said.
“He’s still here,” Lynn said.
Daniel was in the car with two friends when the accident occurred as they exited the Lincoln Tunnel. Both friends were fine and one signed himself out of the hospital expecting to visit Daniel and for them to leave together, Daniel Inglis Sr. said.
“He’s still here with us. He’s very lucky to be alive. We just have to stay positive. We can’t look the other way. You have to look forward,” Daniel Inglis Sr. said.
Daniel, who is a Lanoka Harbor firefighter and Union City police officer, spent months at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City before he was moved to Kessler to begin the rehabilitation process. Before being admitted, he had recommendations from Sen. Christopher Connors, Committeeman Gary Quinn and Congressman Jon Runyan, all noting that he’s inspiring, selfless and has an undying commitment.
Sandy De Leon, spinal cord coordinator at Kessler, also was instrumental in getting Daniel into Kessler.
“I told (Daniel Inglis Sr.) I would be happy to evaluate Daniel and follow him,” she said. She proceeded to give the family an orientation for Kessler. De Leon also teaches educational classes for the patients and families.
“Our goal is to maximize your potential and to teach you how to take care of yourself… When Daniel leaves here, he’s really going to be the expert,” she said.
The Inglis family has made it to every single class, De Leon said, emphasizing the important role of the family in a patient’s recovery. She described the family as “awesome” and “unbelievable.”
“Their strength as a family and belief in their child is amazing,” she said.
Once a month, the Inglis family has a team meeting at Kessler to provide updates on how he’s doing, what to expect and what Daniel’s goals are.
They used to visit five to six days a week but its now been cut down to three due to the major renovations at the house.
“Work is minimal,” Daniel Inglis Sr. said. “I do small jobs here and there to get by.”
The first bill from Bellevue was $500,000 and the Inglis’ are still navigating what is covered under insurance. For example, Daniel will need to undergo a procedure to provide diaphragm pacers. The procedure is covered but the pacers are not, costing $30,000 each with a need for four.
With benefit events and the Daniel Inglis Charity Fund, between $15,000 and $17,000 has been raised to support the family so far.
“Things can add up but we’re going to try to give him everything he needs somehow,” Daniel Inglis Sr. said.
Daniel Inglis Sr. carries around a folder that helps him keep in check. It documents everything from letters in support of Daniel to what needs to get done.
'Everyone's Stepping Up to Help'
When asked if he’s looking forward to coming home, Daniel said, “Always. I miss how quiet it is compared to the hospital.”
But right now, the home on Sinclair Avenue isn’t so quiet.
Upon returning home, we quickly got to work as volunteer Matt Bentley of Eastport Builders was waiting. Bentley has worked with Daniel Inglis Sr. of Lanoka Electric for more than 15 years.
“I’ve known the kids since they were little,” he said. “Dan helps me out, and I help him out. If the guy needs a hand, I’ll do anything for him.”
Bentley is one of many volunteers who are lending a hand to the Inglis family.
“It’s amazing. Everyone’s stepping up to help,” Daniel Inglis Sr. said. From Home Depot — Daniel’s former employer — to businesses, friends, the Lanoka Harbor Fire Company and the Township Committee, everyone has been supportive.
“It’s phenomenal. Words can’t describe how much it helps,” he said.
The guys were hard at work; only occasionally taking a second to talk about Daniel and his progress. The same was the topic at the dinner table.
Through courage, strength and faith the family stays motivated, Rachel-Lynn said.
But for Daniel? “I’m motivated by family and friends and just knowing that there’s still a possibility,” he said.
To make donations, checks can be made payable to the “Daniel Inglis Charity Fund” and sent to the Inglis' home at 708 Sinclair Ave. in Lanoka Harbor or stop at any TD Bank where an account has been opened for the family.