My name is Jim Ryan, and I am a C4 complete quadriplegic. What this means is I don't move or feel anything below shoulder level. I was a pilot for over 30 years before being injured while on vacation in Hawaii in March of 2016. Since then I have had to re-learn how to breathe and talk, and learn to live with my new way of life.

Since then I haven't stopped moving forward and have gone paddleboarding, sturgeon fishing in the Fraser River, and most recently paragliding! I am now an ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation, and do public outreach and presentations around my injury and accessibility.

Proof

You can read stories of my injury - including my wife's recollection of the accident, and my recovery since then, as well as the hard days that no one talks about when you're battling depression - all on my website My Quadriplegic Life as well as my Facebook page

My son Daniel (u/pilotmandan) is here today to help with this AMA, and he helps me make YouTube videos, as well as a podcast we host together called Rolling Through Life.

If you still want more self promotion, you can follow me on Twitterand Instagram as well!

So go on, AMA!

Edit 1: I'm going to take a bit of a breather for an hour or two and watch the US Open. I'll be back on around 3pm PST to answer some more questions. Thanks for your interest!

Edit 2: Thank you for all your questions! I am going to take the rest of the day off to enjoy the warm weather on this long weekend. I'll check back in tomorrow to answer any more questions you may have!

Comments: 445 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

Ishcodeh851 karma

Before you go viral again I hope you get the chance to see this. I live in chilliwack and saw you at a high school assembly some 2-3 years ago. Looking back at it now as a 27 year old I still remember what you had to say to this day. Anyways my question for you would be... if you live in the Fraser valley where is your favourite place to go and visit?

RollingThroughLife431 karma

We walk the Vedder River Rotary trail a lot, and go to Cultus lake. I'm easy to pick out - I'm the guy in the wheelchair ; )

itsNinja____________529 karma

How anxious were you before, during ,and after?

I'd be terrified!!

RollingThroughLife771 karma

I wasn't anxious at all. Just very excited. I flew for almost 40 years and it was just another exciting flight.

curvy_dreamer228 karma

My 13 year old daughter has talked about wanting to be a pilot for a couple years now. Is there any advice you give her to accomplish this goal/dream?

RollingThroughLife501 karma

Stop talking and start doing. Go to the airport, go to the flying club, and learn about airplanes. Get the flight simulator on your computer. Start with little steps, and they will lead to big steps. It's a great career, and men and women are treated equally.

DodgeyDemon45 karma

Which flight simulator? I’ve been wanting to do this for over a decade.

RollingThroughLife84 karma

I use Xplane

fuckcanoli210 karma

Do you regret being kept alive as a quadriplegic? Serious question, if it hasn’t already been asked.

RollingThroughLife491 karma

Sometimes. Mostly I'm happy to be here though.

citizentyr205 karma

Did you still get the butterflies in your stomach feeling?

RollingThroughLife281 karma

I dont think so! But i do feel the sensation of flight in my head!

LightSlayerPantyOn173 karma

What drives you to be so positively different?

RollingThroughLife335 karma

To be honest, I don't think I am different. I just see myself as a guy in a wheelchair trying to get through life. I don't feel I have any choice except to move forward. The only thing that may make me different is the tremendous support I have had from family and friends.

medcur88 karma

I don't feel I have any choice except to move forward.

I think this is an incredibly important statement. I have a tumour on my spinal cord at around C7. I am told at best I'm supposed to be a quadrilplegic and at worst I'm not supposed to be able to breathe but have somehow avoided both eventualities which nobody can explain. Was there a moment when all felt lost but that moment gave you the inspiration to continue moving forward?

RollingThroughLife28 karma

I don't think there was any moment that gave me inspiration to continue moving forward. I see my life as a series of problems that need to be solved, and I just keep moving forward. I'm pretty sure I was like that before I was injured.

PainForYearsAndYears171 karma

Even though you say you don’t feel anything below your injury level, do you have any parts below injury level that you have any dull or sharp feeling at all? Or nada? I had a comment thread with someone that we discussed this, as I mentioned sometimes incomplete injuries have patchy feeling without motor, or even motor but lacking feeling, depending on the injury type.

Thanks for the AMA! Really enjoyed watching you enjoy yourself!

RollingThroughLife313 karma

Sadly, I don't have any sensation at all below my armpits. I have to be careful because I can a blister or sore on my skin and never know about it. My spinal cord injury is complete with no current chance of repair.

wheniaminspaced142 karma

How much arm/hand control do you have if any? Also how have you dealt with weight gain?

My father is also a quadriplegic he went over the handle bars while mountain biking and basically crushed his neck into non existence. He has some movement control in his right arm, enough to raise it with a fork contraption and get some food (if he can manage the angle of the fork correctly) to his mouth. The growing issue is weight though. His diet isn't bad,but even eating 1800 ish calories a day he still puts it on slowly but surely.

RollingThroughLife197 karma

I don't have any movement or feeling below my armpits. I feel for your father. I struggle with weight as well, it is tough having to eat little boy meals : (

wheniaminspaced42 karma

The airlines KO'ed many of your chairs?

RollingThroughLife63 karma

I have some dents and scratches, but so far so good : )

k9_amunity120 karma

What different airframes did you used to pilot?

RollingThroughLife260 karma

I was very fortunate in my career to fly modern Boeing (B737NG, B757, B747), Airbus A320, Douglas DC8, and Lockheed Electra! It was a great career.

PainForYearsAndYears102 karma

Also, can you tell us about your injury? How were you injured? How did you motivate yourself to keep going and to fight depression? Currently struggling with diminished ability to walk and I could use any tips or resources on coping.

RollingThroughLife149 karma

I am a C4 complete injury and yes, I was hit by a wave. I too fight depression. The best help I get is spending time with people. Go out and have coffee with your friends. Face to face contact is best!

k80k80k8054 karma

A wave hit him while he was in waist-deep water in Maui. It's on his website.

pullasulla78bc62 karma

But how does that cause this type of injury? It's really vague. Was it the sheer force of the wave of did he hit something on the sea floor??

RollingThroughLife153 karma

The wave drove my head in the sand and caused severe whiplash, which caused my injury. The force of the wave was incredibly strong.

TJA42570 karma

how’s your week been man?

RollingThroughLife107 karma

Crazy. I am glad everyone has enjoyed the flight as much as I did, and I hope I motivated people to try new things.

marathon66466 karma

What is your elevator pitch on what you wish more people knew about accessibility, and what we could do to be advocates?

RollingThroughLife129 karma

See the person, not the disability. When I am out I want to people to see me, and not the wheelchair. Remember to say hello to me, ask about my dad, my life, my accident. Like you would treat everyone else.

superqam61 karma

What's your next adventure?!

RollingThroughLife98 karma

I would like to do some offroad quading with my good friend Doug!

turninggrey47 karma

How did it feel!?

RollingThroughLife98 karma

Strangely I don't have real feeling, but the sensation of flying was very real. As you can tell from the joy I had, the feeling was incredible!

yucatan3646 karma

Have you seen the movie “The Intouchables” ? Your flight happens in the movie and he is also a Quadriplegic. Beautiful Movie but make sure to watch the one made in France.

RollingThroughLife57 karma

Yes I did, I enjoyed it immensely. I agree that the French one is much better.

Calintz9240 karma

Was this a one time thing or do you do this (or plan to do this) often?

RollingThroughLife71 karma

Sure hope I get to go again, at least once this year. It may be hard to fit in between sailing and paddleboarding and other adventures : )

kaimkre137 karma

Hi Jim! Thank you for answering so many of our questions. I'm an amputee myself, and whenever I dream, I always have both of my legs back. When I was younger, all I could dream about was running barefoot with the grass beneath my feet. Do you ever have dreams in which you've regained full use of your limbs?

RollingThroughLife55 karma

When I dream, a lot of my dreams are with me moving as a normal person. Sometimes when I wake up, I wish I was able to move again, but reality takes hold.

Definitelynotbob6932 karma

My uncle was a pilot for 40 years and said he only had 3 emergency landings, how about you?

RollingThroughLife75 karma

My only emergency landing was in the Air Force when we had to shut down an engine for a fire indication. Turns out there wasn't any fire. Other than that, a very boring career. Thankfully.

-mxe-32 karma

Despite your servere injury, you keep going foreward every day and are all out positive. What Kind of advice would you give to someone with a similar injury to make the best of every day?

Awesome video btw!

RollingThroughLife40 karma

Spend time with people, go out and see your friends. Face to face contact is best!

Stedjuthan31 karma

Whenever I see someone with a disability, I don't want their wheelchair/condition/etc. to be the main focus, but I don't necessarily want to gloss over it either. What's a balanced approach when interacting with a person who has a disability?

RollingThroughLife36 karma

Thats a good question. Talk to the person like they are another person, but don't be afraid to ask them about their accident or how they ended up disabled. Our disabilities are a main part of our life, and we are quite comfortable talking about them. But remember, there are many other things we are interested in as well : )

Aj_aguayo29 karma

As a young man in his 20’s, what advice can you give to me in regards to happiness?

RollingThroughLife85 karma

Go outside and see people, when you walk by someone look them in the eye, smile and say hello. People love someone who is happy, make friends and spend time with them. Get involved, give back, it is totally worth it.

SirGhosty2226 karma

You mentioned sailing, what kind of boat do you use?

RollingThroughLife64 karma

I sail with the Vancouver Disabled Sailing Association. It can be set up as a sip-and-puff boat, which lets me steer the rudder by blowing or sipping into a tube.

theysellcoke24 karma

Did flying again bring back any memories and feelings that you weren't expecting? Things you'd forgotten about that used to just be every day normal things.

RollingThroughLife56 karma

It was the first time I felt like I was flying since my accident. Truly a wonderful feeling.

KruxAF20 karma

what should i do in the bahamas this september? also, congrats on living such a badass life! teach teach teach

RollingThroughLife20 karma

Enjoy the sun and sand! And thanks for the support!

actuallyatypical19 karma

As a young disabled person in a poor, widely inaccessible town, how do you suggest approaching city officials about trying to make certain parts of the city more accessible? I love where I live, really, I just wish I could participate in everything like everyone else.

RollingThroughLife23 karma

Talk to your city counselor and engineering department. When I approached the city here, they were very interested in quickly making the city accessible. And when all else fails, talk to the press. When people know the issues, they want to help.

squid50s18 karma

What was the scariest part of paragliding? And would you recommend other people try it?

RollingThroughLife42 karma

For me it wasn't scary at all, just pure joy. I think the scary part is people thinking of all the things that could go wrong, I really think you should try it!

coldcurru17 karma

My dad had a stroke a month ago and can't talk or swallow. He's got a trachea in his throat and it'll be who knows how long until he gets speech therapy or can speak.

Currently he's in the hospital. He struggles to communicate. The few times I've seen the nurses around him they just ask the basic questions like if he's in pain. I'm sure in his state there is so much more he'd rather be saying.

I can communicate pretty well in sign language. He can still use his limbs. Not sure how good his sight is. I've thought about teaching him to sign but none of the nurses sign so it'd be pointless without me. Any attempts to get him to write have been poor. It's a struggle.

I read about your initial communication system using the letters and blinking. He has an alphabet chart as well as a chart with basic medical needs and pictures. I tried to get him an app for augmentative and alternative communication but he's not allowed device access by himself, per my mom, so that didn't work. The apps were also pretty basic and didn't apply to his environment. More like for little kids.

My question is how would you have improved your communication system during your time in the hospital or any time you couldn't speak? Your letter chart was alphabetized but that seems inefficient as the letters aren't organized according to their frequency used in the English language. Would you have liked a chart with common words on it instead of spelling everything? I read your blog post on yoga. It seems painful going through letter by letter like that.

Mind, my dad can point and sometimes write. He attempts to mouth words but everyone's lip reading skills are poor. He really wants to speak and I want to help him. He's likely looking at several more months hospitalized. What's your take on communicating in that situation?

RollingThroughLife15 karma

If i had my trachea for a few more months I would have reorganized the letter chart, and I would have made a second chart of common words. Fortunately I came out of that time fairly quickly. There were lots of things I would have liked to say, but couldn't. I hope your dad improves.

obtrae12 karma

What are the latest operations or technological advances out there that could ease your situation?

RollingThroughLife17 karma

Sadly for me, there aren't any. I had bleeding into my spinal cord and it cannot be repaired.

ShowMeDRAGONS8 karma

Would you consider skydiving next?

RollingThroughLife17 karma

I thought about it, but its not that high on my list right now.

fucklostit8 karma

Did you feel helpless when you were up there?

RollingThroughLife24 karma

Not at all, I just felt pure joy.

drunkenpinecone7 karma

My nephew is a C7 complete. He was paralyzed 6 years ago. He has feeling above his nipples. Initially he was considered a quadriplegic but after surgeries he was classified as a paraplegic (he doesn't have feel on part of his arms).

It completely changed his life and our families lives.

It's amazing that America is fortunate to have ADA. But we went to Europe and Mexico and sadly most places are not wheelchair accessible.

Have you or do you plan to travel to other countries and talk to students there?

RollingThroughLife8 karma

Being a Canadian we are fortunate as well. Our countries are "new", so we have had the ability to adapt our environment. Sadly, most countries don't have this opportunity. We recently traveled to a few places in central america, and mostly found it lacking. It takes a lot to travel right now, and we have lots to see in our country : )

FencePaling7 karma

Before your accident, did you ever think you could live life as a quadriplegic? I don't mean to sound callous, but for me I've always said to my partner I couldn't live if I lost my arms and legs. But I guess that's something a lot of people say? I guess what I'm asking is, were you always strong enough as a person to know you could change the way you live, but still live well, or before the accident were you in the same mind set as me that you couldn't do it?

RollingThroughLife28 karma

Before i was injured, I didn't know what a quadriplegic was, so I never really thought about it. Since I was injured, I just keep moving through life because I don't have a choice. I'm not sure how strong I was, or am, I simply try to keep living.

lordoftime7 karma

As someone with a wife who is paralyzed and encounters barriers in our daily life, what strategies and resources do you use with businesses that aren't up to ADA standards?

Also, what's your favorite example of universal design that could make your life easier, but could also make everyone's lives easier?

RollingThroughLife13 karma

The best thing to do is to get out, and make people aware. Talk to them directly, talk to the city, talk to the press, and use social media.

I find that when people know there are barriers, most are willing to help remove them.

Favorite example of universal design? Door entryways that are easy for people to use with wheelchairs, strollers, and hands full of parcels are a necessity.

cincymatt6 karma

So basically the plot for The Upside only without - I’m guessing - the billion dollars? Even down to the defining moment of paragliding.

What do you think most people get wrong about living with quadriplegia?

RollingThroughLife17 karma

That movie is based on "The Intouchables", it is the original movie in French which you can watch with English subtitles. A much better movie in my opinion.

People see the injury and not the person, we're still a human just with a body that isn't working.

Lord_Bushrod5 karma

What have you found to do in your spare time, and do you have a hobby?

RollingThroughLife25 karma

Spare time? I'm quite involved with the Rick Hansen Foundation and Travel for All an accessible travel firm. When I'm not doing crazy things like paragliding, I have a model railway in my backyard that I like to work on.

mapkin4 karma

Are you going to go bungee jumping?

RollingThroughLife9 karma

Not really sure. Enjoying life as it is.

brjohns9944 karma

After reading your story, I found the post below yours to be quite a coincidence

How big was the wave?

RollingThroughLife8 karma

The wave wasn't very big : (

hikinaturalist4 karma

Thanks for hosting this AMA!

What are your thoughts on accessibilty in the context of wild places - remote areas that typically have little infrastructure? If our government funds the construction or maintenance of a trail, is it acceptable that some citizens have trouble using it or simply cannot use it? Or should each government-backed infrastrucure meet ADA or similar standards?

I'm in the parks and rec realm, and this is a discussion that needs more attention and more input from all stakeholders. So, I'm excited to hear your thoughts

RollingThroughLife11 karma

You know, life goes on. We can't all do everything. I would rather the wilderness stay wild then make it accessible for everyone. I still get to see and do lots of neat things, so I don't mind missing out on some things. It is nice to have some accessible areas, but please, don't ruin the wilderness just for me.

randall_dicknose3 karma

If there was a surgery to restore movement to one half of your body, would you rather be paralyzed from the waist up or waist down?

RollingThroughLife12 karma

The left side.

BOT_Kirk3 karma

You mention sturgeon fishing in the Fraser and the Rick Hansen foundation, are you a fellow lower mainlander?

RollingThroughLife3 karma

Yup! I live in Chilliwack!

ColonelBy3 karma

Hi Jim! Thanks for sharing your amazing story with all of us.

As I see you're here in Canada, I wanted to ask about your thoughts on the annual National AccessAbility Week that will run from May 26th through June 1st. Do you have any engagements or plans for it? And whatever the case, what do you think the government should be prioritising when it comes to accessibility issues? They've definitely not always done well on this.

RollingThroughLife3 karma

I am not involved in anything this week. Government should be encouraging/requiring new public buildings to be accessible for all. And they should encourage/facilitate the renovation of older buildings.

pepperpasteface3 karma

Do you remember anything about your wife helping to rescue you and/or when she was telling you that you still owed her 30 years on the marriage contract?

RollingThroughLife6 karma

I really don't remember anything from the first few days. That being said, a contract is a contract : )

pizzawithartichokes3 karma

Has your injury affected your views on health care policy? I’m assuming you’re Canadian — are you satisfied with your access to care and out-of-pocket costs? I hope you will write another article expanding on why you feel this way, I’m genuinely curious!

And I can’t listen to any more about Donald Trump. The strange thing is we have 6 more years of Donald. Get over it people – he will be part of our lives for years to come and his actions and deeds for generations. (Of anything I write in this article, people will remember this the most. Perhaps I will write another article about it.)

RollingThroughLife13 karma

Yes, I am thrilled to be Canadian. I receive messages from Americans who are trying to navigate their health care system. I really feel for them.

My care here in Canada has been excellent. I spent 9 and a half months in hospital with no cost to me. I receive publicly funded health care every morning and every evening, probably for the rest of my life.

At this time I will not talk about the American medical system, or the American President. Maybe another time...

ghostscommentarys2 karma

When you have to go poop and pee, do you know or do you just go?

multiclefable19 karma

Not OP, but as he is unable to feel or control anything in his lower torso, he likely both can't tell and can't control it. There are two common solutions for both.

Poop

1. A bowel program

Basically, you manually make yourself poop at a scheduled, regular time every day or every other day. This gets the bowels on a schedule and prevents accidents. You can make yourself poop by using a suppository or a mini-enema to soften things up, then doing digital stimulation (sticking a finger up there a moving it around to break things up and get things moving).

2. A colostomy bag

A hole in the abdomen is made surgically and then the poop comes out through there. This can help patients stay independent if they are not able to do a bowel program by themselves.

Pee

1. Catheter in urethra

This is basically a tube that goes into the urethra and drains urine into a bag that you can empty. This can either be in constantly or you can just put it in and drain the bladder at regular intervals.

2. Supra pubic catheter

A hole is surgically created in the abdomen and the catheter is inserted through that.

More Resources

Here is a website with more information and here is a straightforward YouTube video from a paraplegic of how a bowel program can work.

Here is a site with more details about bladder control after spinal cord injury and here is a YouTube video from a quadriplegic on how he manages his bladder.

I know I'm not OP and this might be more info than you wanted, but I hope this gives you or anyone else in this thread a better idea of how paralyzed people deal with daily functions like this.

RollingThroughLife11 karma

I won't go into detail, but I will say that all of that is accurate.

ivylgedropout2 karma

I had a practical question about the paragliding video when I saw it. Was there a reason you used a wheelchair? Why not have you lay on your stomach in a sled of some kind, since this is a more natural paragliding position?

RollingThroughLife3 karma

The equipment my friend had available was the buggy, and truth be told, it was probably safer.

fernandomonterrroso2 karma

First, I Just want to say GREAT !, My respects sir, you may be seated on a wheelchair, but I can assure you, you are standing taller that a lot of peoole I know. Fair winds and calm skyes to you captain !

As for my question is: how it feels paragliding ? Im 48 and always wanted to try it, but Im not that brave

RollingThroughLife2 karma

Go ahead and try! You'll be surprised how much fun it is.

dudefise0 karma

Were you actively flying as a career when your injury took place? Obviously, it's not exactly something you can get a special issuance for, so how did things go on that end? Did you have/use Loss of Medical Insurance, or are you in a different field now?

RollingThroughLife2 karma

Yes, I was a pilot at Westjet airlines at the time of my accident. I am now on long term disability. I do work as a motivational speaker - for very small pay.