Over 5 million people in America are living with paralysis— that’s one in every 50 people. New Orleanian Mark Raymond Jr. is looking to help Louisianans who are in that number. As a survivor of a severe spinal cord injury himself, Mark has become a strong advocate, bringing awareness to the difficulties that paralysis and amputee patients face, especially access to specialized fitness facilities.
It was July 4, 2016, when Mark dove into shallow water in Lake Pontchartrain. When he struck the sandy bottom his neck snapped, and he was rushed by paramedics to the hospital— his heart stopping three times before his condition stabilized. Mark was not only a C-5 tetraplegic but he had also contracted pneumonia due to the water that had rushed into his lungs, and it was for that reason the doctors waited two weeks— until July 19— for the swelling in his neck to subside, and perform surgery. All the while Mark was coming in and out of a coma. “Truthfully I don’t remember much of anything for two and a half weeks,” he says.
His journey to recovery was a long one, — after one year of occupational therapy and physical therapy, he wanted to do more to build his strength. In the United States, there are only 30 physical fitness centers focused on those with paralysis and none are in Louisiana. When Mark visited one in California, he began to understand how important they are to one’s recovery. “They’re fantastic,” he says, comparing them to the commercially popular “Anytime Fitness,” but with personal trainers who know how to work with people with paralysis. Mark credits his workouts in California for a big part of his recovery, one that has exceeded his doctor’s expectations and led him to where he is today. He is now able to use both of his arms. Mark’s goal is to build a similar gym in New Orleans. He started the Split Second Foundation to make it happen.
For those with paralysis, these centers are about much more than the workout. After a severe brain or spinal cord injury, patients typically go through an extensive rehab process but unfortunately insurance coverage is widely varied. Research shows a patient’s return to home can be a pivotal period — with a high risk of regression and secondary complications, such as heart disease, blood clots, muscle atrophy, bone loss, depression and anxiety.
The Split Second Foundation intends to change that. Their goal is to bring a specialized, long term fitness center for paralyzed and disabled patients to the New Orleans area. Dr. Andrea Toomer is Mark’s physician and a member of the board, and a specialist in rehabilitation and physical medicine at the Culicchia Neurological Clinic in New Orleans. Dr. Toomer is a firm believer in the importance of physical exercise and for a paralyzed patient, it plays an important role. “The fitness center that Mark and the Split Second Foundation are trying to build will make a positive difference in the lives of so many patients,” Dr. Toomer said. “It will allow them to work their muscles, perform cardio exercise, increase their independence, and also provide meaningful social interaction. It can be an uplifting experience, both physically and mentally.
Mark and his family are just amazing… they have so much determination, and so much drive. Nothing is going to stop him. He’s determined to reach this goal, and he will reach this goal.”
The Split Second Foundation’s primary fundraiser for the year, “Dependence Day,” is at Generations Hall at 310 Andrew Higgins Drive in New Orleans, LA, on Friday, June 28, 2019. Visit: https://www.splitsecondfoundation.org/dependence-day.