When 17-year Lani Deauville dove from a seawall on a Jacksonville, Florida, beach in 1958, it didn't seem particularly risky. After all, the athletic champion diver was used to diving from bridges, racing cars at high speeds and generally, as Deauville remembers, "performing any scary activity I could think of." With this particular dive into shallow water, however, Deauville slammed hard into the ocean floor, breaking the fourth, fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae in her neck.
Deauville was paralyzed from the neck down. "If you broke your neck in the 1950s," explains Deauville, "you died. If you survived the initial injury, the life expectancy of a quadriplegic back then was five years." Quadriplegics typically have to battle of variety of health complications, including urinary tract infections, pneumonia, central nervous-system infections, gastrointestinal ulcerations, osteoporosis and bowel blockages.
Deauville refused to accept her fate. She changed from a neurosurgeon to an orthopedic surgeon when the neurosurgeon wouldn't recommend surgery to stabilize her neck, because he thought her case was hopeless. After getting neck-stabilization surgery and spending a year and a half in the hospital fighting skin ulcers, spasms and infections, Deauville became the first quadriplegic patient of the State of Florida's Vocational Rehabilitation Agency.