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Journalist Opts for Kinder, Gentler Approach to Life After Injury

July 07, 2021

For Andrew Hay, a spinal cord injury was a hard stop. Followed by a soft start.

Andrew had been running himself ragged, working long hours and hardly ever taking a break. The result was extreme fatigue — so extreme that he started having fainting spells. The last spell happened ten feet up a ladder, leading to a fall that injured his spine and paralyzed him from the chest down.

"When I returned home from rehabilitation at Craig Hospital this past winter, I started thinking, 'What's the point? I can't walk, run, ride horses, or mountain bike.' Then I discovered a virtual meditation class offered by Craig, taught by Victor Towle," says Andrew. "Victor helped me realize that what I could do with my arms and my head was a lot. And that it was enough."

Andrew sees his injury as a chance to approach life differently. He is trading in his previous performance-driven work approach for a more mindful and self-caring one.

"Before my accident, people would talk about meditating and I'd think, 'Where do you find the time?' Now, it’s the other way around. Without mindfulness and meditation, I can't get through the day," he adds.

Andrew Hay in his wheelchair working his fields in New Mexico

Andrew left home in the United Kingdom at age 19 to become a journalist. He built a career traveling the world and chasing news stories for Thomson Reuters — requiring him to adapt quickly to new situations. That skill came in handy during spinal cord injury rehabilitation and motivated Andrew to take advantage of his time at Craig to optimize life in a wheelchair. He went on outings with Craig’s wheelchair crew to gain skills on navigating city streets and sidewalks, and he learned to drive adaptively. He also tried out several types of adaptive equipment through Craig’s Therapeutic Recreation program, some of which he uses at home today. For example, he has an attachment that turns his wheelchair into a trike, and a big wheel that clamps to the front of his wheelchair that allows him to go over grass, mud and snow. It empowers Andrew to tend to his fields and work on irrigation ditches at his rural home in Taos, N.M.

Andrew views his time at Craig as a mix between a boot camp, an Ivy League college campus, and a health spa. He especially appreciated the realness of the Craig staff and their willingness to share a laugh. (And, of course, the 5-star meals from Craig’s executive chef!) Andrew says that he and Craig associates had running inside jokes that would leave him doubled over in fits of laughter, like one about him going to Craig’s “adaptive attitude” department and acquiring a mood change.

Andrew Hay sitting on physical therapy table at Craig Hospital with physical therapist standing behind him
Andrew Hay with Craig physical therapy Joe Fangman

“I admire the confidence of Craig’s staff. It’s obvious that leadership trusts them, and that trust frees them to be more human and less worried about appearing professional. That’s there of course, but at the end of the day they know they are dealing with human beings — human beings that are facing paralysis and managing bodily functions,” Andrew says. “You simply have to laugh at some of this stuff.”

While in the United States studying journalism, Andrew met his wife Jessie. Through the years, his work brought the couple around the world, along with their children Louis (16), Violet (13) and Jane (9), who were each born in a different country. Ten years ago, they settled in Jessie’s hometown of Taos where she teaches elementary school Spanish and he works remotely as a reporter.

Andrew Hay's four friends creating a flagstone path in his yard

The family has a tight-knit group of extended family, friends and neighbors. Their outpouring of support for Andrew carried him through hard times and inspired him to keep going. For example, his family and friends built flagstone paths around his house for his wheelchair and started a GoFundMe page that permitted him to buy a functional electrical stimulation (FES) bike like the one he tried at Craig’s PEAK Center. It allows his leg muscles to move, increasing circulation and providing other health benefits. He admires his wife for how she carried everything during his rehab and credits his children for reminding him to practice what he preaches and stay positive.

"Instead of trying to get back to exactly who I was and what I was doing before the accident, I'm trying to be kinder to myself, be present, and allow myself to be productive in a new way," Andrew concludes.