An A.C. Cop’s Fight to Survive and Inspire
For many of us, a new year means resolutions. For Josh Vadell, it means a series of small resolutions that together add up to one huge accomplishment. He’s resolved to continue his dramatic recovery from a near-fatal gunshot wound in September 2016. And few are so doggedly determined.
Vadell, at the time an Atlantic City police officer, suffered a severe head wound while attempting to break up a robbery. It was the beginning of a long and tough road. Vadell, who retired from the police force following the injury, has pushed himself exceedingly hard and is convinced that with the aid and support of his family he will move on to a new episode in his life. A living profile in courage, he hopes to become a motivational speaker.
Not bad for a man who could barely communicate when he arrived at Drucker Brain Injury Center at MossRehab in Elkins Park, Pa., following an emergency, life-saving craniotomy at Atlanticare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City. Indeed, most of those early days—days that would stretch on to several additional surgeries and six grueling weeks of rehabilitation—were a blur.
Initially paralyzed, he found those early days and weeks trying in the extreme. The slightest exertion, even conversation, left him tremendously fatigued. His recovery was complicated by the psychological aftereffects related to the shooting.
“Loud bangs would startle me, and I would start reliving the night I was injured,” he recalls. “I was trying to get used to having a disability, adapting to my new life, and having to be careful with my skull, having to wear a helmet, being afraid something was going to hit my head. I was never a very cautious guy, so having to adjust to that was difficult.” One of Vadell’s follow-up surgeries was to restructure his shattered skull, replacing a segment with a prosthetic skull plate.
MossRehab therapists didn’t wait long before beginning to help him start his recovery. In two days, he was out of bed, beginning physical therapy to help him regain function. Vadell has nothing but admiration for those therapists.
“They Pushed Me as Hard as I Could Go”
“They pushed me to do more, and their constant encouragement really helped me. They pushed me as hard as I could go. I attribute my quick recovery to that. Every week, I would see how much stronger I got. It was really more like being around family than hospital staff. I’ve remained friends with some of them. There’s a reason they’re in the top 10.”
He also drew inspiration from other patients undergoing therapy—including, he says, some who were in worse physical shape than he was. “We worked off each other,” he says. “We would push each other.”
From that point on, Vadell set what he calls “small” goals for himself. Some of those goals included getting past the surgeries that progressively allowed him to achieve something of a normal life. There were others. “Being able to move my arm was a big goal,” he says. “Being able to move my foot in a certain direction was a big goal. Getting rid of the helmet was a big goal. And getting out of rehab and going home was also a big goal.”
On November 8, 2016, Vadell did return home. “I was determined to get out as soon as I could,” Vadell says. “I missed my family. I was homesick.”
The next goal was self-sufficiency. As hard as he applied himself to inpatient therapy, he determinedly embraced outpatient therapy at MossRehab in Woodbury, NJ. His therapists there, he says, are “cut from the same cloth” as his therapists at MossRehab in Elkins Park.
“We All Have That Fighting Spirit in Us”
Vadell remains a picture of determination. He sports a dark beard. His right arm and hand, and chest are bedecked with tattoos—three of them dedicated to his three young daughters, Adrianna, Vienna and Lucy, who was born two weeks after the shooting. He walks with a limp—he continues to experience weakness and some loss of vision on his left side—but with the help of Botox injections to help him regain function and the recent acquisition of a RELEAS splint, invented at MossRehab, to help give him better control over his left hand grip—he is literally and figuratively moving forward.
His wife Laura, who has been his caretaker and biggest ally, has found her role reduced as Vadell pushed on through his series of small goals to regain self-sufficiency—such as being able to shower, prepare meals for himself and take a more active role in caring for his kids. She is impressed by, and grateful for, his progress. “I had to break his fall a few times early on,” she says. “But now I don’t have to help him as much. It was his goal to be self-sufficient by the one-year mark. I don’t have to worry about him anymore, and that’s a big deal.”
Now, as he enters the new year, Vadell continues to set goals for himself. Aside from continuing to regain functionality on his left side, he now focuses on a new career after the police force: motivational speaking. Few people are better equipped to do it.
“I want to help people find the will to fight and survive,” he says. “We all have that fighting spirit in us. I want to give somebody that hope.”