After diving into Walnut Lake in suburban Detroit, Adam Niskar sustained a spinal injury that would paralyze much of his body for the rest of his life.
The trauma didn’t paralyze his life and living, though. But today, my family will celebrate that life at Adam’s memorial service.
Adam was my cousin. He was one of the best-loved people on the planet, and that was part of a therapeutic recipe that sustained him from the traumatic accident in 1999 until Monday, July 31st, 2017, when Adam passed away from complications due to an infection that, this time around, his body couldn’t fight.
Here are ten lessons I learned from from Adam, living beyond the wheelchair.
- Pressure the healthcare system for what you know you need. Once Adam was stabilized from the trauma, he wanted to undergo the most aggressive and state-of-the-art physical rehab program he could identify. That happened to be in the state of Colorado, but Adam lived in Michigan where the state Blues plan mandated his care. I was gratified to be able to work with the family to advocate to BCBS of Michigan, helping make the case for Adam to be transported to Colorado for that program. We gathered evidence and information to support the argument, which the Blues approved.
- Be the best patient you can be; engage, full-on. Adam was a fierce patient. He committed to being smart about his condition, keeping up with new research and demanding excellence for his own care. His advocates did, as well.
- Enlist and embrace advocates on your behalf. Adam was blessed with a strong nuclear and extended family who were with him on the journey from the start. Over time, his circle of advocates grew. He accepted and embraced this support, which continued to organically grow.
- Be resilient. Be the best athlete you can be, wherever you ‘are’ in physical health. Adam stayed strong in body and in mind. When my father developed chronic heart failure in 2005, he told me that Adam was his hero as an example of perseverance.
- Work. Adam worked with Quicken Loans for many years after emerging from physical rehab. He got to know Dan Gilbert, the owner of the company, a major supporter of the Detroit economic renaissance and owner of Cleveland Cavaliers. Dan became a faithful friend of and advocate for Adam over the years.
- Be social. Social connectedness is a determinant of health for every one. As I said above, Adam was a well-loved man, touching thousands of peoples’ lives. This was one key success factor in Adam’s resilience, and both clinical and mental health.
- Believe in miracles. Adam fell in love with Lisa Anderson, who loved him back, hugely. Welcome, Miracle 1. They were one of those couples that team-work in such a natural way. Then, Miracle 2: Lisa got pregnant, and Macy was born.
- Laugh, often. Here’s a snippet from a Facebook post Adam wrote in December, 2016, to give you a sense of laughter-as-medicine: “Over the years people have mistaken my paralysis for a myriad of diseases, disabilities and oddities. Years ago I was at CVS and the cashier asked me if I suffered from Multiple Dystrophy. I said, ‘Uhhh, no ma’am have muscular sclerosis.’ Thank God I have thick skin because years later the same asshole was trying to find some common ground with me. She let me know, ‘there’s another guy who comes in here who has a hook-arm.’ I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to spit out my water laughing. I couldn’t believe that, not only am I paralyzed, I’ve been downgraded to a pirate by the CVS Clerk.” Speaking of laughter, in 2009, the comedian Artie Lange participated in a benefit for Adam Niskar, sponsored by Quicken Loans, featured here in the company blog.
- Find a creative outlet. Adam found a therapeutic outlet in his journaling, which ultimately resulted in a screenplay and film called Cripple. More on that, below.
- Love life, every day. Some days were great, some good, and some just awful. But of all the therapeutic inputs into Adam’s life after trauma, love was the killer app and health-sustaining determinant. Carpe Diem.
Here’s a wonderful interview with Adam about the movie he made titled Cripple, based on his experiences, collaborating with Dan Gilbert and his movie-producing brother, Gary Gilbert.
Let me leave you with some more Adam-humor. See the photo, and here’s the caption: “My first selfie. Taking my sock off, the son of a gun shot across the bathroom into the toilet. I couldn’t throw it in there from 3 feet away and the motherfucker shot in there from 18 feet away. All of a sudden I’m Steph Curry? At least I wasn’t at the Silverdome.”
Rest in peace, dear man. We love you.
FYI, here is a GoFundMe page dedicated to helping support Macy.