On July 4, 2021, Sean Horst celebrated Independence Day by heading over to a friend’s house in Brookfield for a day enjoying good food, catching up and watching fireworks.
But just as Horst was about to go home for the evening, a last-minute decision would forever change his life. He dove into his friend’s backyard swimming pool.
The 2018 Riverside-Brookfield High School graduate was a swimmer since childhood, competing as a swimmer and water polo player at RBHS and earning a lifeguard certification.
But, after Horst dove into the pool, his head immediately hit the bottom.
After he floated to the surface of the pool, face down and unresponsive, friends jumped in to rescue him.
Paramedics rushed him to the emergency room at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where his mother, Stephanie Jordan, was informed her son had no feeling below his shoulders. Horst had sustained significant damage to his spinal cord, fracturing to his C4 and C5 vertebrae.
Treatment has been expensive, and on Sunday, Sept. 3, the Joliet Slammers independent minor league baseball club is sponsoring a benefit for Horst at Duly Health & Care Field, 1 Mayor Art Schultz Dr., Joliet.
Tickets are $6 per person, with $5 from each ticket sold going to benefit Horst’s recovery.
“I’m sure some people feel very angry and alone — and that’s not how Sean is,” Jordan said. “He’s always been very positive, and I’m so very proud of him. Everything in life changed — but we’re still hopeful for what the future brings.”
Shortly after the accident, a family friend also set up an online fundraiser for Horst and Jordan. To date, nearly $53,000 has been raised to assist with everything from medical equipment to family living and medical expenses.
Links to both ticket sales for the baseball game benefit and the online fundraiser can be found at linktr.ee/standtall4sean.
“There’s a lot of costs involved with quadriplegia,” Jordan said. “In therapy, he was able to use all these great tools and equipment, and then they want you to work on things at home, and you can’t unless you purchase at-home adaptive equipment. The GoFundMe was able to help with those costs.”
Horst now uses a power wheelchair, and thanks to ongoing therapy, he has gained a lot of upper-body strength in his arms, shoulders and neck. While Horst doesn’t have hand or triceps function, he does have some function in his biceps.
Following surgery, Horst spent 22 days in Loyola’s intensive care unit battling respiratory distress and failure, followed by another five weeks spent in rehab.
The accident left Horst a C4/C5 incomplete quadriplegic, meaning he cannot feel his hands, fingers or below the chest, and is dependent on 24-hour care, which is provided by Jordan, a single parent.
Unfortunately, not only did Horst’s around-the-clock care mean that Jordan had to leave her full-time job as an operating room technician at Loyola, but the family had to move from their apartment in Brookfield, as the building was not wheelchair accessible.
Horst’s recovery was slow; he suffered from a lot of issues with blood pressure, making it difficult to sit up for long periods. It also took him nine months to start feeding himself again. Because he has no grip capability in his hands, Horst is dependent on adaptive tools for eating and drinking.
One thing that has greatly helped Horst gain a sense of independence in recent months has been participation in adaptive sports, including hand cycling and adaptive sailing on Lake Michigan with the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation.
To Horst, these activities have been great for his spirit, including his self-confidence and physicality.
“I had my first sailing lesson with the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation right before my one-year anniversary of my injury,” he said. “Sailing gives me a sense of freedom — it makes me feel like my disability disappears for the hour or two I’m on Lake Michigan. [And] I never realized people hand cycling could be disabled. I love the intense challenge and look forward to being strong enough to ride longer without guidance.”
Just over two years after his accident, Horst says he’s learned a lot from the disability and quadriplegic community — mainly, the importance of remembering to advocate for yourself and be mindful that others may be dealing with a blend of both visible and invisible needs.
“You never know what people’s disabilities are — and for quadriplegics, it’s so much more complex than just not being able to feel the majority of your body,” Horst said. “The spinal cord injury community really urges the newly injured that you need to advocate for yourself because the issues involved are not common knowledge, even for doctors. It didn’t take me long to realize this was so true.”