Nearly a year and a half after a Lincolnton firefighter dove into Lake Norman and became paralyzed from the waist down, doctors are noticing improvements in his condition.
Adam Dancoff, 23, suffered extreme head and spinal cord injuries in July 2012.
At the time of the incident, the full-time firefighter with Lincolnton Fire Department had been enjoying a summer lake day with friends when he jumped from the group’s boat into shallow water, changing his life forever.
Mooresville Fire Department, Rescue Squad and local EMS crews responded to the scene and stabilized the victim before transporting him to the hospital.
The then-21-year-old spent three days in the intensive care unit at Carolinas Medical Center-Main in Charlotte and three days outside the ICU unit, still in the hospital facility, he said.
During those critical days, friends and family never left his bedside.
Dancoff moved from CMC-Main to a rehab facility, where he stayed from July 20, 2012 to Aug. 28, 2012, the day before his 22nd birthday. Before the end of last year, he returned to rehab for two additional stays in order to improve his strength.
While doctors initially labeled his impairment a “complete C-6 spinal cord injury,” Dancoff said, they have since changed his diagnosis, a switch they told the firefighter rarely occurs in situations like his.
Last December, medical officials renamed his condition to a “C-6 incomplete spinal cord injury” after he began to experience tingling in his toes.
Small movements and sensations of feeling continue to take place throughout Dancoff’s legs and feet.
“My legs are constantly getting more and more feeling,” he said.
While some may say the modest improvements are still a far cry from complete healing, he and his family believe they are significant strides, giving them hope along Dancoff’s uphill recovery battle.
Confined to a wheelchair, the firefighter attends therapy 2-3 times a week at Phoenix Physical Therapy in Denver.
The visits are less frequent than his initial therapy routine, he said.
He also maintains fewer doctor visits, currently going bi-monthly for checkups.
Perhaps most miraculous for Dancoff’s condition has been his ability to stand with a walker — using others’ help and also a machine at times.
The standing, which initially lasted only 30 seconds but has since increased to nearly two minutes, has been possible because of improvements in his blood pressure, he said.
In addition, while others were needed to lift him out of the wheelchair at first, Dancoff now uses his own arms to push himself up and out of his seat.
The increased strength throughout his body has allowed him to be more independent over the last year while living with his brother, John, in the Long Shoals area.
He said he completes some daily tasks on his own, including a certain degree of cooking and cleaning, though he joked he’s “no chef.”
“I can warm up a hot pocket,” he said laughingly.
Dancoff’s daily routine also includes completing some therapy and weight exercises at home and journaling about his injury. He spends time reading over previous entries he and friends initially wrote after his accident — comments that give him an “extra push,” he said, when he feels discouraged.
However, his outlook on life continues to be hopeful and positive.
“I was originally asking, ‘Why me?,’” Dancoff said. “Now, I know there’s a reason for what happened.”
While the reason remains unclear to him, he continues to pray and ask God for the answer.
“That’s my main question and answer I’m hoping to find,” he said. “God’s really moved me over the last year to not give up on myself and realize He’s working through me.”
Visiting fellow firefighters at the Lincolnton station also remains a top priority for him.
“They were there in the hospital from day one,” he said.
Fire crews have been more than supportive of Dancoff since his accident, even building wheelchair ramps for him at both his brother and mother Linda’s residences.
Starting next month, Dancoff will be taking online classes through Columbia Southern University to finish his associate’s degree in fire science.
He said he began his firefighting career as a volunteer for South Fork Fire Department in Lincolnton. He also once worked at the Lincoln County Communications Center.
Dancoff’s father, also named John, once volunteered for North 321 Fire Department while his brother currently works with Denver Fire Department.
“We’ve got a lot of fire in our blood,” he said.
For more information and updates on Dancoff’s condition, visit the Facebook page “Prayers and Encouragement for Adam.”