Alex Austin, from California, underwent surgery after he injured his neck while visiting Guatemala
A California man’s family is setting out to raise money to pay his mounting medical bills after he suffered a freak accident while swimming in South America.
Alex Austin was with friends in Guatemala on January 2 when he inadvertently dove into shallow ocean water and broke two vertebrae that pinched his spinal cord.
“After we pulled him out of the water, he slowly began regaining feeling over our 5-hour journey to the best hospital in Guatemala,” Austin’s friend, Dillon Nicholson, wrote on the family’s GoFundMe page.
After arriving at the hospital, Austin underwent an operation to place two titanium rods, a titanium mesh cylinder and a palladium plate along his spine, the donation page reads.
Over the weekend, Austin began therapy sessions at the hospital to keep his lungs and muscles stimulated, and an update on Monday showed the 28-year-old smiling as he walked for the first time since the accident while assisted by Nicholson and a nurse.
“He rose from his chair, did two laps around his room, and was exhausted at the end of it,” Nicholson wrote. “Five days ago we were lying on a beach and he couldn’t feel anything below his neck. Yesterday he was walking, and I had my first tears of joy.”
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“All I want to do is go on walks with my boy and sneak him more ice cream,” he added.
While Austin — a high school chemistry teacher from Modesto, California — is making strides in his recovery, his medical bills have soared to a massive $20,000. According to Austin’s sister, Roxanne Austin, the hospital said they wouldn’t release him until the amount was paid in full.
“Since the insurance can’t really do a lot right now, we are paying everything out of pocket,” Roxanne told FOX 40.
In just a few days, the family was able to raise more than $21,000 from 355 donors to help pay Austin’s bills in the hopes he’ll soon be able to fly home to complete his recovery. As of Tuesday morning, the donation page is just short of the family’s $25,000 goal.
“He is an amazingly genuine person, always looking at the bright side of things,” Roxanne told the news station of her brother.
According to Nicholson, even if he is thousands of miles away, Austin has kept his students in mind.
“After calling his parents, the first thing [Austin] wanted to do was make sure his students would have lesson plans to stay active while he’s gone,” Nicholson wrote on GoFundMe.