Anthony Purcell lay on the sand, uncomfortably aware of the silence that surrounded him. He was wide awake, and well aware of the fact that he could not move a muscle. It was Feb. 6, 2010, and the 22-year-old had just taken a bad dive into a sandbar in South Beach, Florida, instantly compressing his neck and damaging his vertebrae. He was completely paralyzed, and completely underwater.
The next thing he remembers is his cousin lifting him from the ocean and himself fighting for air. "I 100 percent thought I was going to die," Anthony recalls.
Instead, Anthony lost his ability to walk. "He went through hell and he came out of that hospital like a noodle," Micki Purcell, Anthony's mother says. Luckily the family had enough money to send Anthony to a rehabilitation center, which is financially unattainable for most people.
After the accident, the Purcells moved to Newport Beach and now commute three times a week to Project Walk in Carlsbad, Calif. Anthony undergoes intensive two hour training sessions that cost $100 an hour and he's been going for almost 2 1/2 years.
"When we were thrown into the spinal cord world, I had parents coming up to me crying and begging for help," Micki recalls. "That's when we knew we needed to do something."
In December 2010, Micki and Anthony created a nonprofit organization called Walking with Anthony. The organization holds lavish red carpet events to fundraise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help those with spinal cord injuries. The five-man nonprofit is staffed by family and friends who volunteer their time to help people across the nation. So far, Walking with Anthony has helped nine individuals in different ways through providing financial and emotional support.
Rachelle Friedman was a 24 year old bride-to-be when she was playfully tossed into her friend's backyard pool at her own bachelorette party. The bride hit her head on the bottom of the pool and suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury.
"They understood my situation and that I didn't have the funds," Rachelle says. "Insurance companies don't care if you break your neck or ankle, it's all the same and they don't provide enough coverage."
Walking with Anthony is compelled to go beyond just covering rehab invoices. They're determined to lend a hand however they can; they have given away wheelchairs and have helped pay for rent. The organization is currently working on creating an at-home program for people who cannot commute to the various locations of Project Walk.
"The real challenge is choosing who we're going to help next," Micki says. The nonprofit is new and is still trying to establish its self even though they receive upwards of 40 inquiries a month. The funding just isn't there yet to help everyone Anthony says but they're trying to make a difference.
"We've always been individuals who get a lot of gratitude from helping other people," Anthony says, "We love it and we always knew we were going to start [Walking with Anthony] because we wanted to turn something bad into something good."