Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Calvin College Student Paralyzed in Diving Accident

But he's optimistic about his recovery.

For Matthew DeVlieger, a Christmas break dive in the Gulf of Mexico became a lesson in mortality.

As he and his twin brother Andrew watched schools of fish while swimming near the sunken U.S.S. Spiegel Grove about 135 feet deep, Matthew came to the grim realization he was short oxygen.

"I was thinking I needed to get to get to the surface; that I didn't want to run out of air," he said Thursday by telephone from a Miami hospital. "I just needed to get out."

The next few minutes were critical for the 21-year-old Calvin College junior. While he survived the Dec. 28 incident after suffering decompression sickness, he now faces rehabilitation and questions whether he'll walk again.

"I'm optimistic," DeVlieger said. "I know it's going to be a lot of hard work and rehabilitation. I'm ready for it."

He recovered enough to be moved out of Jackson Memorial Hospital's neuroscience intensive-care unit and hopes are he can soon be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital.

A Calvin men's tennis player like his brother, Matthew has regained mobility in his right arm and has seen improvements in his left hand. A feeding tube has been removed; on Wednesday, he had lunch from Taco Bell.

"It was pretty tasty, but I'm not sure if it settled that well," he joked.

His positive attitude and faith have helped, said his mother, Sandie DeVlieger.

"There's a joy in his face and a light in his eyes," she said. "He's so accepting of what the Lord will have him do. It's pretty amazing."

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Amazing, indeed.

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