Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=224685
Story Retrieval Date: 11/24/2014 3:29:48 PM CST

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Courtesy of Jeff Kellogg

"I'm now days out from running my first marathon because I didn’t accept the limitations I had. I saw everything as, 'This is where I’m at right now, so what do I need to work on to get to the next point?'" -Jeff Kellogg


The 26.2-mile road to recovery: Once paralyzed man will run Chicago Marathon

by Jaclyn Voran
Oct 10, 2013


RUN-hospital bed

Courtesy of Jeff Kellogg

"I have an appreciation for the little things in life. It’s an appreciation that I wish everyone could have, but I would never in a million years wish anyone would have to experience what I did to get to that point." -Jeff Kellogg  

For someone who has trouble just tying on gym shoes, running a marathon might seem out of the question.

Not for Jeff Kellogg, who will sprint from the starting line of the Chicago Marathon this Sunday, despite a devastating accident that left him temporarily paralyzed in 2007 at age 19. Six years and two half marathons later, he's signed up for the big race.

“No one thought this would happen,” Kellogg says. “They basically had no explanation for why I recovered the way I did.”

Kellogg faces unique challenges to training, with a drop foot making it hard for his right leg to clear the ground, sometimes tripping him. His step isn’t what it used to be, causing leg and hip pain. Because of this, some family and friends were opposed to him running marathons.

“I was not pleased at all,” Kellogg’s mom Tammy says with a laugh. “I thought he was just asking his body to to do too much. All of us were concerned about him to the point that his older brother decided he better do whatever training he could in a short period of time to run with him for his first half marathon.”

Kellogg was a college sophomore when he lost his footing, slipped and fell headfirst into a shallow pool, shattering one of his vertebrae and fracturing two others, sending bone fragments throughout his neck. He couldn’t get his hands above his head in time.

He lay on his back, frantic and unable to move his arms or legs, looking into the eyes of a friend trying to calm him down. He was on a trip to Orlando with fraternity brothers.

“I was 19. I was going to college in Miami. I was the most independent person I thought I could be and just living the life,” Kellogg recalls. “Now I was on my back, and I couldn’t function. I couldn’t move anything.”

Doctors credit Kellogg’s Florida International University friends for saving his life. They moved him inside, stabilized his neck and called 911. Paramedics airlifted him to Orlando Regional Medical Center.

His parents, in upstate New York, woke up to the call that comes at 1:00 a.m., a phone ringing in bad news. Their son broke his neck, doctors said. They needed to get to Orlando immediately.

“All our kids play sports, and we’ve dealt with so many broken bones, so I was just like, ‘Oh, O.K., so will he have to stay there for a couple days or what?’” Tammy says. “I just wasn’t cluing in to what they were talking about. And they were like, ‘He broke his neck. You need to come down now.’”

Kellogg says one of the hardest things is to hear how friends and family learned of his injury.

“I just don’t want anyone else to suffer while I suffer,” Kellogg says. “That just kills me to hear how other people heard it. It just absolutely kills me.”

Doctors waited hours before operating, Kellogg says, hoping to give his parents a chance to arrive.

They didn’t because the earliest flight didn’t leave until 6:00 a.m.

By himself, without any family around, Kellogg took in his potentially devastating prognosis: he might never use his arms or legs again. As he was wheeled into surgery, nurses held a phone to his ear: “Mom, I’m fine. They’re taking care of me,” he said.

“It sounds strange, but I kind of laughed because of course he’s telling me that. Not wanting to have a big fuss,” Tammy says.

Calling the hospital from the airport, Tammy listened to a nurse’s updates on Kellogg’s condition.

“She started talking about Christopher Reeve’s injury, his vertebrae, and how it compared to Jeffrey’s,” Tammy says. “And I was like, ‘Why is she talking about Christopher Reeve?’ It wasn’t until then that it registered that he could actually be paralyzed.”

Tammy arrived at the recovery room before Jeff woke up. As he slowly came to, he reached his hand out to his mom with one thing on his mind: “Am I a quadriplegic?”

Thankfully, he wasn’t. Though the right side of his body was temporarily paralyzed and left side without sensation, Kellogg’s spine was not severed, making it an incomplete spinal injury, known as Brown-Sequard syndrome. Today, Kellogg still cannot feel pain or temperature on his left side from his toes to his mid-abdomen and struggles using his right hand.

“To be completely honest, I would have given up the use of my left leg if I could have had full use of my right hand,” Kellogg says. “I know it sounds crazy. To this day, the thing that bothers me the most is my right hand.”

Kellogg spent a little more than a week in Orlando before doctors transferred him to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey, where he woke up hit by the reality of being confined to a bed with nothing he could do about it.

“It was the first time I cried since the injury,” Kellogg says. “You kind of have to do that, and then take a second pause, and say, ‘Alright, we’re going to do this now.’”

During his six weeks in the rehab facility, Kellogg relearned basic movements. He started with shifting himself from a wheelchair to another surface. Then he moved on to moving his foot, lifting his leg, using his right hand and, eventually, walking. Simple things, once taken for granted by a former cross-country runner, tennis player and swimmer.

“The day that I could touch my thumb to my ring finger, I was thrilled,” Kellogg says. “The day I tied my shoes for the first time, I was ecstatic. They weren’t even that tight, but I did it on my own. One of the things you realize when trying to recover from an injury like this is that it is the very small things that bring the greatest joy.”

Over time, Kellogg rejoiced at brushing his teeth, shaving and writing his name.

He left on his own two feet, using a walker, after six weeks in rehab. He continued physical and occupational therapy for two years while back in school, and in 2009, watching a friend run a half marathon, he was inspired.

“The excitement and satisfaction that came with it reminded me of my passion to compete and run,” Kellogg says.

By January 2010, he had completed his first half marathon in Miami, followed by a second in 2011 in Charlotte.

But Kellogg isn’t one to do anything halfway, so in January 2013, he signed up for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, his first full marathon, and joined Team Reeve to raise money for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Naturally, he beat his goal of raising $5,000, and on Sunday, Oct. 13, exactly six years and two weeks from his injury, he hopes to finish in 3 hours and 15 minutes. That means 7 minutes and 26 seconds per mile, his goal time.  

“I have no doubts about finishing this,” Kellogg says. “I never thought about the finish line, but I wondered if I’d ever get to the start line. I’m not accepting it until I conquer this thing.”

Kellogg says he doesn’t have to look far for motivation.

“The thing that I run for, and the thing that I go to when I do not want to run anymore, is all the people and all the amazing support system I had when I was at Kessler,” Kellogg says. “It’s the people there that will never be able to walk again. I’m running for them. I’m running because they can’t. I’m running because I was given a second chance.”