Dr. Dale Hull, the walking definition of irony
By Tony Gottschlich, BWC Public Information Officer
Assisted by a cane, Dr. Dale Hull walked slowly to the podium and pronounced, “I am a quadriplegic” to an audience Thursday morning at the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Medical & Health Symposium.
“You might be asking, ‘Are you sure about that? I just saw you walk to the podium and you’re moving your arms,’” Hull told a hushed audience at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. “I assure you, I am partially paralyzed from the mid-trunk down.”
Hull then shared the story of how a tragedy — a trampoline accident in 1999 damaged his spinal cord and upended his life as a successful obstetrician-gynecologist and married father of four sons in South Jordan, Utah — became a transformation.
“As we go through life, we make plans, we make choices, we feel like we’re in control and we choose to change at times,” he said before revealing the theme of his lecture. “But what happens when change chooses you?”
Hull, who was 44 at the time of his accident, explained that he struggled mightily in the early months of his recovery. The loss of independence was almost too much to bear. His prospects and outlook were dim, and seeing even the most mundane of activities — a neighbor mowing his lawn — would reduce him to tears.
“I felt like a modern-day leper, at times like I wasn’t even a worthwhile human being,” he said. “I thought it was so unfair for God to give me something I wasn’t prepared for.”
He said he had hoped he would just regain enough movement in one hand so he could maneuver a powered wheelchair. But in the months that followed, through faith, family and dedicated health care providers, he regained much more.
It started with a big toe, followed by slight movement in his legs, and then an index finger. He endured intensive physical and occupational therapy, and in two years he could walk again with the aid of arm crutches.
Not satisfied, Hull set his sights even higher. The Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City were coming up, and Hull wanted to carry the Olympic torch. In February 2002, he did just that, topping off the experience when he passed the flame to basketball superstar Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz.
“This was my George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life moment,” he said, referring to the Jimmy Stewart holiday classic.
Grateful for the strides he had made, Hull and physical therapist Jan Black started wondering how they could help others recovering from spinal injuries. Then he read a Mahatma Gandhi quote he hadn’t seen before: You must be the change you want to see in the world.
“When I read this quote, I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Because I knew what it meant.”
In 2004, Hull and Black founded a nonprofit, outpatient neuro-rehabilitation facility in a 1,000 square-foot store front and called it Neuroworx. In the years since, thanks to its success and generous benefactors, Neuroworx has grown into a modern, leading rehab facility with state-of-the-art equipment and a mission to serve adult and child patients alike, regardless of their ability to pay.
“This adventure has been so rich in its experiences and so amazing in terms of what I’ve learned,” Hull said. “If God or Buddha or even (Ohio State University head football coach) Urban Meyer told me I could have a fully functioning body again, but I’d have to forget everything I’ve learned over the last 18 years, I would say no thanks, don’t touch me.”
“I have no idea why I’m so blessed and so fortunate,” he said. “I just know that I am.”
You can watch Dr. Hull give a TEDx-talk about his journey here.
The health symposium continues through Friday.