Young Grand Island man defies the odds with incredible comeback

Grand Island

A young man from Grand Island is defying the odds.

A year and a half ago, it was unknown if Ben Richard would ever walk again.

And now, he’s not only walking, but he’s an inspiration for other Western New Yorkers battling spinal cord injuries.

These days, 19-year-old Ben Richard is walking, and even dancing with a lively spirit.

He’s independent.

He gets by with the help of his family, friends, therapists at ECMC… and his 9 iron, which he uses as a cane.

“It’s actually really nice. It’s got the rubber grip so it doesn’t move anywhere,” explained Ben.

We first introduced you to Ben last year.

His WWII Veteran grandfather graduated high school with him, wheeling him across the stage.

Separated by decades and vast life experiences, it was a day that almost never happened.

On May 9, 2020, a car crash changed his life.

“The first probably week and a half to two weeks, I don’t really remember much. I remember a little bit of the ICU,” said Ben.

Ben was a passenger in a car that skidded on ice, ejecting him.

Most serious of his injuries, Ben fractured his scull, broke his shoulder and dislocated his back at the L3,L4 vertebrae, pinching his spinal cord and paralyzing him below the knee.

He explains the sensation as pain that “shoots through the roof”.

“Feeling’s very strange below the knee. I pretty much have all the pain that comes with stubbing a toe but it’s like so much worse,” said Ben.

But it doesn’t stop him… and it never has.

Today, Ben is paving his own path.

In his early days of recovery, Ben was told by doctors, they weren’t sure if he’d ever walk.

“To shove it in their faces, I got contraction when I tried to point my toes down in my calf. I’m hopeful,” said Ben.

Ben’s physical therapist Julie Buono is helping Ben gain strength.

“His progress is huge. When he started, he was in a wheelchair, he wasn’t standing. He cold transfer from the wheelchair to a mat and we had to do a lot of stretching,” explained Buono.

He comes to outpatient physical therapy at ECMC twice a week, and he works hard.

“We’re trying to work on his balance so he can get rid of the cane eventually,” said Buono.

Ben is thankful to be here.

He was 18 at the time of his injury, which is the youngest you can be to participate in this program.

He says it’s the best therapy for his type of injury.

“I got really really lucky to – I mean lucky is a funny word but like – I was blessed enough to come here,” said Ben.

While Ben works to recover, he’s also here for the camaraderie.

“He’s everyone’s biggest cheerleader in the gym and it’s cool to see. He’s the first one willing to talk to someone, to encourage them, to tell his story if he needs to. So, he really is a positive influence on anyone he meets,” said Occupational Therapist, Rachael Ponichtera.

Despite only being 19, Ben is now a peer counselor for people with similar injuries.

Through all of this, he’s gained something really important: perspective.

“You take a lot of things for granted before and now it’s just like – especially being in like groups of seeing everyone on the MRU and seeing people down here, it’s like – I’m glad I have my arm. It could be gone. It could’ve flew off. You know? Or, I’m just glad I’m this far. I see some people come in and I’m like you know, I was there,” explained Ben.

Two weeks ago, Ben participated in the USA Wheelchair Football League… and he made an incredible play, catching a pass.

Ben says no matter where life takes him, he’ll always find success.

A story of motivation for people, no matter how high the odds are stacked against you.

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