Jeff East: Living and enjoying life after spinal cord injury
Veteran Jeff East served in the Army from 1997-2004, but it was not until five years after returning to civilian life that he sustained a life-changing spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident, leaving him paralyzed. Over the next two years - "fearing the worst and facing the unknown," as he puts it - Jeff mostly stayed home, traveling only to medical appointments, therapy sessions, and small family outings. Eventually, he began to emerge, to adapt to and overcome the challenges facing him in his new life and for this he credits his "military mentality." Support from the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) helped him move forward and "to live and enjoy life again." Jeff especially acknowledges former PVA president Chuck Willis whose perseverance in his own life inspired Jeff to become active again.
Now, Jeff is attending Liberty University to earn his degree in Business Administration and actively volunteers in the advocacy community. He trusts in leading by example and believes, "Life isn't over because you are in a chair. You are and will always be the same person you were before you got hurt. You just might have to change how you do things." A desire to work with newly injured individuals has driven him to volunteer at a local VA hospital as a peer counselor, to teach a Psychosocial Readjustment class, and to serve as treasurer for a local PVA chapter. Jeff has also advocated for persons' rights on Capitol Hill and in his state and local communities.
Jeff attributes his initial interest in the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP) to Sherman Gillums, Jr., a fellow paralyzed Veteran, who shared his experience as a SCIRP peer reviewer with Jeff. Nervous about speaking in front of researchers and clinicians and afraid that his comments would be viewed as unnecessary or not valuable, Jeff was shocked to find that members of the SCIRP peer review panel really wanted his input on pertinent topics. He describes this experience as eye-opening. He was excited to see the commitment of the scientific community to helping better the lives of individuals with spinal cord injuries. Before gaining firsthand experience on a SCIRP peer review panel, Jeff was unaware of the process by which potential ideas are funded - he feels deeply indebted to Mr. Gillums for recommending the SCIRP, which has allowed him the opportunity to be a part of the groundbreaking steps of new treatments for those with spinal cord injuries.
Jeff says, "Change only happens when we make it happen. By assisting or pushing for change now, we will ensure the success of those that follow me. I am so happy to be a part of something that will make a difference for those who suffer a spinal cord injury, and those that will be injured."