Rowing Into a Renewed Life
As an aviator for the US Coast Guard, Joe Moncalieri, 32, the father of two young children, was doing what he loved most in the spring of 2016: riding his motorcycle along the rural roads straddling North Carolina’s strawberry fields. The driver of a passing car swiftly altered the trajectory of Joe’s ride with an un-signaled U-turn. Catapulted 30 feet into the air, Joe dropped to the ground—his sternum shattered, spleen ruptured, bowels torn, and all of his ribs and two vertebrae in his spine broken.
Following emergency surgery and eight weeks in a regional hospital's ICU, the Coast Guard gave Joe’s wife, a nurse, her choice of facility for Joe’s rehabilitation anywhere in the US. Well aware of Spaulding’s world-class reputation, she made her decision instantly.
“Spaulding is where I learned to start my life in a wheelchair,” Joe says. “It’s also where I came to understand that my life did not need to be limited by my wheelchair.”
Following Joe’s inpatient treatment, he participated in a in research study on the FES rowing machine in Spaulding’s ExPD program. As a lifelong exerciser, Joe was thrilled to be able, again, to work out hard enough to elevate and sustain a vigorous, aerobic heart rate. Two years later, an every-other-day-regimen on the rowing machine has brought him back the kind of physical and emotional stamina he has always enjoyed. “Rowing proves to me that I can do something for myself,” Joe says, adding that his new endurance and confidence pushed him toward a dream he never would have dared to consider.
This past spring, Joe obtained his pilot’s license. Training required moving to the Midwest by himself—1,000 miles away from his family—the first time he’s been on his own since his accident. This was a test of resilience and self-reliance all on its own. His first solo flight proved that he had made the right decision. Immediately, he said, he was brought back into a world where the sky, instead of his body, defines the limit. “When I’m up in the air, everything becomes possible,” he says. “Maybe I can do anything?”
View more Patient Stories.