On a fateful December night in 2009, Joel Jackson’s life changed forever.
That’s when he and five other young people chose to ride with a drunk driver. Shortly afterward, their vehicle slammed into a telephone pole. A 15-year-old girl was killed. Joel, age 20, was thrown from the car. The impact shattered his spine where it connects to his skull. Doctors call it internal decapitation.
He survived but spent weeks in a coma. When he awoke, he found himself a quadriplegic. After 87 days spent in the hospital, he was sent home – never expected to walk again.
Lauren has known Joel since they were 14 in South Carolina. They occasionally lost touch and both dated other people. Then, Lauren visited him after the car accident. They had to communicate by means of a computer Joel operated with his eyes. But a spark between them was reignited.
They started dating in 2012 and married a year later. Regarding his injury, she recalls, “As I understand it, the doctors just said, ‘This is as good as his life is ever going to be. Make him comfortable.'”
But Joel has been undergoing physical therapy ever since, in Jacksonville, Florida, and he’s making good progress. Therapists aren’t sure of the potential he has, as he has never had proper physical therapy before. But Bob McIver, manager of Brooks Rehabilitation’s Neuro Recovery Center, said Joel continues to regain strength and body movement.
When they wed in 2013, Lauren told him, “When you can talk, I want to renew our vows. And when you can walk, I want you to dance with me.”
And this week, a man who was never expected to be able to get out of a wheelchair had his first dance with his wife, with the help of a body weight-support system.
Lauren and Joel, now both 26, shared a tender, impromptu moment swaying to their wedding song, Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be”. Lauren posted the video of the dance on her blog, and you can watch it below.
What did they think of the experience? “Euphoric,” recalled Joel. He spoke to NBC News with the help of a computer.
And Lauren said, “The little things mean so much to us.”
The couple sells paintings and other artwork that Joel creates on their blog, and they hope to raise money for a home that he can live in comfortably. Prior to his accident, Joel had attended culinary school. But neither of them has been able to return to work, and they’re currently staying with Joel’s father.