“This is honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to me”

This story was published by The Vancouver Sun and The Province newspaper / written by Harrison Mooney

Andrew Cho had been bothered by a sore neck for hours. He arrived home feeling dizzy, his arms and legs were numb and cold. He got into bed, then decided to get up and unlock his front door in case he needed help.

“Just as I stood up, I guess that’s when my blood pressure shot up and the blood vessel that had been bleeding completely burst,” he said. “I became completely paralyzed and I fell face down on the ground right there.”

Cho, a former professional cyclist, had a broken blood vessel in his C3 and C4 vertebrae. Only moments after walking himself to bed, he was on the floor, paralyzed from the neck down.

“My initial reaction was to scream for help, but I actually couldn’t scream because where the bleed happened, that has the nerve roots for your lungs and your diaphragm. I could only whisper, which was terrifying.”

Cho didn’t panic.

“I could probably survive for five to seven days. That was my first thought,” he said. “I had this sense of calm laying there thinking through all of this, and then I realized that my phone was gonna die in three to four hours. I realized that my weakest link wasn’t my own body — it was my phone.”

His cellphone had fallen to the floor as well, landing about a foot away from him. Paralyzed or no, he had to get to it. So he used his head.

“I dug my chin into the ground, dragged myself across the room, unlocked my phone using my tongue and used Siri to call 911.”

Ten minutes later, emergency responders broke down the door to Cho’s Vancouver home.

His ordeal was far from over.

Cho’s second feat of strength would be getting back on his feet. Since his paralysis in January of this year, Cho has been regaining his strength and mobility at Vancouver General Hospital and the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre.

He’s made a remarkable recovery. By August, he had the strength to run a half-marathon; he completed Lululemon’s SeaWheeze in two hours and 47 minutes.

Cho has also become a proud supporter of VGH, the UBC Hospital Foundation and the Millionaire Lottery, which raises money for the sort of specialized equipment that’s allowed him to get back on his feet and, by next summer, he says, his mountain bike.

“I’m so grateful for VGH and GF Strong and the fact that they’ve really given me everything, and now I’m so grateful to be able to give back in any way I can,” Cho said.

“This is honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s crazy for me to say that, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity that I’ve been given in my life, to have a new perspective. I feel like now I have new purpose as well.”

On Friday, Cho will share his incredible recovery story in South Surrey, as the VGH and the UBC Hospital Foundation preview the Millionaire Lottery Grand Prize luxury show home.

The Millionaire Lottery has been running since 1996, and has raised over $50 million. According to Angela Chapman, spokeswoman for the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation, this year’s goal is $2.5 million, all of which will go toward new equipment, such as a $91,500 mini C-arm for the VGH radiology department.

“There are several pieces of equipment that would have touched (Cho) from the operating room to his recovery that would have come from lottery funding over the years,” she said.

“Andrew is the kind of story that happens every day here,” said Chapman. “Who would expect somebody to be up and walking less than a year later? He’s a model patient in that he had determination, will and grit, but it’s also a testimony to the research that goes on here that produces the very best care and the delivery of unbelievable surgical and rehabilitation services that can only happen when you have dedicated resources like we have in this province.”

Granted, Andrew’s particular story doesn’t happen every day. His friends still can’t believe he dragged himself across the room with just his chin.

“It didn’t even occur to me that that was a crazy feat of strength until I started talking to people.” he said. “And then all these people started trying to drag themselves at home. I can’t do it, they’d say. Well, you’re not about to die.”

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