T.J. Bell is now 24 years old, and in nursing home. He's still living with the consequences of a careless mistake he made when he was just 18.
"I have no movement in any of my limbs, he said. "I cannot breathe on my own."
T.J. was with friends, just days before graduation in 1996. He had been drinking when he dove head first from a rope swing, and hit his head on the shallow bottom of the creek. His friends pulled him from the water onto the shore.
"And I started telling people I couldn't breathe and I couldn't feel nothing and Jason and Gerald started CPR on me," he said.
T.J. had broken his neck and one of his vertebrae. In an instant, he became a quadriplegic, unable to move, dependent on a ventilator. It's something he never would have imagined could have happened to him.
"I was excited about being out of school," Bell said. "Four years of high school, ready to start trying to go to college."
T.J. didn't get to walk with his class at graduation and never got to attend college. He now spends his days in a Slidell hospital bed watching TV or getting on the Internet using a voice-activated computer.
"I don't take things for granted anymore," he said. "I appreciate my family a lot more. I didn't spend as much time with my family as I wish I would have."
T.J. wanted to share his story, in hopes that it may prevent someone else from having to go through the same thing. His advice--don't just live for the moment--think about your future.
"It may be fun to go out and have a good day, but that day could turn tragic," Bell said. "You could be in my situation very quickly."
T.J. Bell remains optimistic about his future. He hopes that someday, if he's able to get off the ventilator, that he'll be able to live on his own. He follows the spinal cord research being done with hopes that it may one day help him walk again.