Here’s Malik’s inspiring story.
After dipping their feet in the lake, his friends told him that it was way too cold for them to go swimming. However, that didn’t stop 18-year-old Malik Paulson from running in.
Just when the water hit Malik’s chest, he dove out across the lake. It was a move he’s made plenty of times.
Only this time, he was wearing a hat.
The bill of his cap snagged on the water.
The pressure of the water against the bill and the angle of his head as he dove in snapped his neck.
Malik then drifted underneath the lake’s surface. He tried paddling his arms and kicking his feet.
When he recognized he was motionless, panic set in.
“I just stopped,” Malik said. “I closed my eyes and said a prayer because I thought this was going to be the end.”
His buddies dragged him to shore and called for assistance. Malik’s body was tingling. He couldn’t feel his buddies poking and prodding him. He had a hard time breathing and had a horrible pain in his neck.
Malik Paulson, who resides in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was taken to a nearby hospital and went into surgery. When he awoke a few days later, he was on a ventilator.
He was disabled from the shoulders down. He couldn’t speak because of the ventilator, and he couldn’t move his arms or legs.
“I felt super helpless. I didn’t feel like living at that time,” he said.
In September 2018, about a month after the accident, Malik was transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals’ Lincoln campus. He was still on a ventilator, but the doctors put in a valve that allowed him to speak.
According to his doctor, Dr. Adam Kafka, he recovered faster than most due to his fitness level and young age, particularly in getting off the ventilator.
Malik began working with doctors and therapists immediately. They started with simple physical therapy like extending his limbs and helped him to work on his coughing, breathing, and how to sit upright.
Once he got off the ventilator, Malik had to learn how to eat again.
PB&J’s were his favorite, but he couldn’t even swallow peanut butter.
He adds, “I’m not all the way there yet, but when I get there, I’m sure going to eat a lot of peanut butter.”
Later on, he learned how to drive his own wheelchair. He maneuvers the chair with a special headrest.
Malik stated, “I didn’t think I was going to be able to drive my own wheelchair or be able to live a normal life or be able to graduate and go across the stage. But I still have the chance to have all that.”
Aside from his inspiring positive attitude, Malik kept a sense of humor during his stay at the Lincoln hospital. When Dr. Kafka would visit, he would turn down Malik’s music, but Malik would just turn it back up. When Dr. Kafka would change the music to country, Malik wouldn’t miss a beat and change it back to hip hop.
Malik’s everyday routine at the hospital consisted of both physical and occupational therapies as well as his school sessions. He uses two sticks that are placed in his mouth to press buttons on his phone, turn pages in his books, and to push elevator buttons.
He did his homework by wearing a headset and giving voice commands to the computer. He stated that even though he isn’t quite at the same place as his peers, he’s not as far behind as he anticipated.
Throughout his high school career, Malik used to dabble in wrestling and track and field. However, his passion was American football.
He dreamt of playing for the Nebraska Huskers.
As one would imagine given his circumstance, you’d think that he would be crushed with the truth that he won’t be able to play football again, but Malik takes it in stride.
He says, “There are more things to worry about. There are more things that I can do in my life than just play football.”
Malik’s inspiring story led to the Husker football team visiting him at the Lincoln hospital. Malik may still become a Husker of sorts. He intends to register at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study engineering in the fall.
Malik has returned to South Dakota just before Christmas. His family will assist him with his care, and he’ll continue with his outpatient treatment.
He was “ecstatic” to go back home and see his buddies.
Malik adds, “What changed my attitude was seeing all the stuff I can do, and my family and friends supporting me and just getting back to doing what I wanted to do.”
LeRon Rupert, Malik’s brother, said he tries to keep Malik’s spirits up. His advice to Malik is:
“Just because you can’t run with me or hug me right now, that doesn’t mean you’re not valuable to us.”
At the end of the day, LeRon said he finds motivation in Malik’s inspiring story.
LeRon adds, “I’m 32 and I’m looking up to my (19-year-old) brother for strength.”
This article first appeared on Live Well Nebraska.