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June 27, 2016

​Taking Life Head-On: One Family’s Story of Life After SCI

Craig Hospital's Movin' On Summer 2016 EditionNestled in the rolling prairie hills of rural Wyoming—where oil, coal, and antelope reign—is the city of Gillette. It’s a small, tough town, where pickup trucks are the vehicle of choice. It’s the kind of place where kids walk to school unencumbered with parents and worry.

As you walk Main Street, you’ll notice a “Stay Strong Gillette” sign on the door of every business—a quiet show of solidarity for the jobs and businesses lost to the recent downturn in the oil and coal business.

Jordan and Lexi Ostlund have deep roots in this community. Their families moved to the Gillette area many generations ago. The couple grew up here, and today they own a real estate business. They pride themselves on helping others become homeowners.

They are living the American dream—one that was hard-fought.

The Ostlunds met in middle school, struck up a friendship in high school, and continued an up-and-down, long-distance relationship. Jordan was 21 years old when he and Lexi decided to make their relationship a forever type of thing. After three years of long distance, they settled in Bismarck, North Dakota, where Jordan planned to finish his last year of school and a college career in pole vaulting. Their lives had finally come together in one place.

Until everything fell apart.

Three weeks after they had finally started living in the same town, Lexi got the call. Jordan had been hurt, and it was really bad. She couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening until she heard the sirens. She lived only a few miles from the gym.

“I obviously knew at that point that life changed pretty quickly right then,” she said. Even today, more than 10 years later, it’s still emotional for her to think back to that particular day.

Jordan was doing gymnastics training, a common conditioning for pole vaulting. While jumping on a trampoline, Jordan lost his orientation in the air and landed on his head and neck. He heard a loud pop, and when he bounced up again and tried to position his arms for a land, he couldn’t move. He had sustained a C5-level spinal cord injury (SCI).

Two weeks after his injury, Jordan came to Craig Hospital for SCI rehabilitation.

“I don’t think it hit right away that things were going to be that drastically different, because it’s all so new. I don’t remember thinking this is it, this is going to be my reality, because I felt like, ‘oh, I’m going to make a full recovery,’” said Jordan.

For Lexi, coming to Craig was a quick reality check. She said, “I had never seen him in a wheelchair, and I didn’t ever envision it until I got to Craig and it hit me as soon as I walked into the doors and saw everyone in chairs at this point. That’s when it hit me, okay, we’re on a new journey.”

Jordan said there were times when he was angry. “In the beginning I had a tough attitude, and I would look at my chair, and I would see my powerchair across from my bedroom and I would think, that thing is like a prison. It’s hard to think about even getting in that thing again. As things began to get better I started to look at the chair as a vehicle. That was my mobility. Instead of my prison, it was my freedom. It was a way to get out to be independent.”

Over the next few months at Craig Hospital, the couple formed lasting relationships with fellow inpatients and staff. And the bond between the two of them continued to grow.

“There were times when I struggled and I tried not to show it to anybody, but Lexi obviously did see those times and she knew when I needed to be held onto and talked to, and she knew when I needed to have a reality check of how fortunate I was to be in the position I was. It could always be a lot worse,” said Jordan.

Lexi and Jordan acquired tools for living a new life outside of Craig.

“I can’t think of what it would be like not to have gone to Craig, where you are so well prepared for what there is to face outside when you leave,” said Jordan. “They’re just second to none as far as the preparation they give you. So we had that team going for us.”

Facing New Challenges

Going home to Gillette, one of the many roadblocks the Ostlunds faced was getting Jordan back to work after his injury.

After leaving Craig, Jordan pursued his MBA.

“I felt like I wasn’t going to have any problem getting a job,” he said.

But he did.

After three discouraging interviews, the Ostlunds regrouped. They considered their options and decided to go into business together. Lexi’s real estate business was booming, and she needed help. As it turned out, Jordan was just the man for the job.

“Looking back, I don’t think I would have been happy in any of those positions,” said Jordan.

“I absolutely enjoy coming to work every day. Not only do I get to sit next to my best friend, but we also get to serve people in a capacity that’s very large in their lives,” he said.

Lexi echoed Jordan’s sentiment. “To have Jordan come in a few years later and to grow to where we are now has been amazing. There are always challenges when you have your own business. Having him there, it’s another person to bounce ideas off of or to share things that we are going through, and it’s been so rewarding.”

When it felt like things were finally coming together, the Ostlunds hit another road bump. After figuring out their careers, the couple faced yet another hurdle—starting the family they had always dreamed about. Spinal cord injury affects male fertility, and in order to get pregnant the couple had to go through IVF treatment.

For Lexi, the difficulty getting pregnant presented a whole new wave of pain and emotion. “That’s a huge emotional roller coaster. I think that was even more of a challenge than going through his injury to a certain degree. Obviously the injury is life-changing, but when you want a child so badly, and knowing the struggles it takes to get there, that’s hard.”

The couple is open and honest about their rocky road to pregnancy. The first attempt didn’t work out, but then came Anderson.

“It’s that moment when you first see them, you first hold them, that you realize how much bigger everything is. You realize there is this whole world you never could even fathom. It’s just a love that comes that is just unworldly,” said Jordan.

Jordan said he was excited about being a dad, but had fears of how his spinal cord injury might affect his son. He wondered if his son would feel like he was missing out on doing father-son things like playing catch, but Anderson quickly put his fears to rest. Two years after Anderson was born, Lexi and Jordan tried for No.2, which ended up being Nos. 2 and 3. Creed and Crew were born two years ago.

“Second to marriage, children are the blessing in the world. And everything that we do at work, we love what we do, we’re passionate about helping people and serving people, but everything we do is because of them,” Jordan said.

The Ostlunds know they have it good. They are employed, and they have a beautiful family and a beautiful home. They have made a beautiful life after a life-altering injury.

“Leaning into one another, faith in each other and faith in God have just brought us to a point where I don’t feel like there is anything we can’t take on. It’s having someone just to rely on through anything, and you know they are going to be there. It’s never a question that you are going to have to face this on your own. You just know that no matter what, we’ll be there,” said Jordan.

Lexi added, “Every day we have a choice, what attitude we choose; every challenge, you have a choice of lying down and letting the challenge run you over or taking it head-on.”