DJ: President of the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children Teen Leadership Council
DJ doesn’t remember much of what happened right after the hard tackle that caused his life-changing injury. He does remember the numbness when he woke up at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children on July 25, 2017. Just 16 years old at the time, the injury occurred while he and his teammates on the South Lake High School football team were participating in summer scrimmages, preparing for the upcoming season. A short time later, he was in a hospital bed, unable to move from the neck down.
“When I first came to at the hospital, I knew something was seriously wrong,” DJ said. “I couldn’t move, but I didn’t really imagine it was as bad as it was. I don’t remember a lot in the beginning, but I remember waking up the next day and not being able to move or talk, or even barely breathe.”
A 10-hour surgery was followed by a week in the intensive care unit and a week in the step-down trauma unit. From there, he spent three months in the rehab unit before being able to go home and begin the hard work of figuring out what his life would be from that point on.
Since his injury, DJ’s accomplishments have been an inspiration to many people. He now can move his arms and has regained some feeling in his feet. He also is able to attend school and even work with the football team at South Lake High School, as a motivator, inspirational leader and even co-captain.
Just as significant, DJ is president of the Teen Leadership Council at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. The mission of the Teen Leadership Council is to “enhance the delivery of care to adolescents and young adults at Arnold Palmer Hospital through self-advocacy and the collaboration of patients, siblings and staff to provide state-of-the-art, family-centered healthcare, focused on restoring the joy of childhood and adolescence in an environment of compassion, hope and healing.”
Members of the council – who must be between 13 and 19 years old and a current or former patient of Orlando Health, or the sibling of a patient – participate in a wide range of activities, such as helping plan special events for younger patients, serving as media ambassadors, exploring leadership development opportunities and taking part in community activities.
DJ became interested in the Teen Leadership Council because it was an opportunity to develop his leadership skills and support patients going through difficult circumstances like his.
“I love to lead,” he said. “But being a good leader also means being able to be a good listener. I just wanted to encourage other kids to tell them that no matter what your circumstances are, you can still achieve your goals. Sometimes, you just have to alter them.”
For DJ, his role as president of the council underscores his ability to think beyond his injury and see the big picture.
“Every day I deal with pain and struggle with anxiety,” he said. “My grandmother and my mom taught me to pray and have faith in God. And I know He has great things in store for me. So even though, at times, I am sad, I have to remember that there are kids out there who are worse off than me. I want to be able to reach and encourage as many of them as I can to not give up, to have faith.”
As for the football team he still loves, DJ hasn’t missed a single game and is committed to helping his teammates succeed in any way possible. On November 2, 2018, the school retired DJ’s jersey.
“I try to encourage them every day to work hard and appreciate every moment they have on the football field, because life can change in a second.”
Are You Interested in Learning More About the Teen Leadership Council?
The mission of the Teen Leadership Council is to enhance the delivery of care to adolescents and young adults at Arnold Palmer Hospital through self-advocacy and the collaboration of patients, siblings and staff to provide state-of-the-art, family-centered healthcare, focused on restoring the joy of childhood and adolescence in an environment of compassion, hope and healing.Learn More Here