After sustaining a spinal cord injury from diving, Dallas Disbro doesn’t allow adversity to stop him from celebrating life each day.
It was Memorial Day weekend 2016. Dallas Disbro, now 31, was visiting the beach and resort town of Ocean City, Maryland, with friends. The house they rented was only a three-hour drive from his home in Washington, D.C., and Dallas was excited to get away for a few days. Then on May 29, the unexpected happened, changing the trajectory of the trip and the course of Dallas’ life.
“I dove off a dock into the bay to swim over to my friends,” Dallas recalls. “I don’t remember when I hit the bottom or what happened after that.”
Dallas dove into shallow water, sustaining an incomplete C-5 spinal cord injury (SCI). Fortunately, a group of people on a boat offshore saw him struggling and helped put his body back on the dock.
“I was very, very fortunate,” Dallas says. “Coincidentally, one of the people on the boat ended up being a friend of mine who was also in Ocean City with her family that weekend. Without them, none of my friends or family would have known what happened.”
Dallas was transported to the intensive care unit at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. He was there for two weeks before transferring to Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program. Initially, he was reluctant to leave his home in Washington, D.C., for Atlanta.
“I wanted to stay in the D.C. area to be near my friends,” Dallas says. “Even though I was reluctant at first, going to Shepherd Center ended up being a big blessing.”
Equipped to Handle Adversity
Dallas has always been an athlete. He received a scholarship to play Division I level soccer at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), the oldest state-supported military college in the United States. While seeking a commission is not a requirement of the school, all cadets at VMI must take Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) as an all-college program requirement to complete their degree.
“It challenged me in every way,” Dallas says. “You may hate it at first, but there is a certain pride graduating from a program like that. I built incredible bonds and became a better person because of my time at VMI.”
After graduating in 2012, Dallas moved to Washington, D.C., and started his career as a financial advisor. He credits his experience at VMI for preparing him for his adult life, as well as handling his injury.
“Getting through the program at VMI equipped me to handle my accident,” Dallas says. “It taught me that I could handle adversity.”
A Change of Mindset
Dallas was a patient at Shepherd Center for more than four months, attending both the inpatient program and the Spinal Cord Injury Day Program. He especially enjoyed recreational therapy, where he experienced activities he had never done pre-injury.
“Recreational therapy was top-notch,” Dallas says. “We got to swim with sharks and ride horses – things I had never tried before. Shepherd Center is like your own little bubble where everyone is going through the same thing together.”
During his stay, Dallas kept his spirits up through music. He purchased a portable speaker and carried it with him everywhere he went. Music made such a positive impact on him that he even got his entire unit to do the Running Man Challenge, which was the latest viral social media dance craze at the time.
“Music helped me change my mindset,” Dallas says. “I would roll into therapy with my music playing, and it would get me excited for the day.”
Dallas worked hard during his rehabilitation, his primary motivation to return to his life in Washington and regain his independence. While he does not have function on the left side of his body, he can use his right side. He uses a wheelchair most of the time, and he can stand, walk with crutches and drive a car.
“I worked my butt off so I could get my independence back,” Dallas says. “Even though it was tough, I was able to go back to Washington and get my own apartment after leaving Shepherd Center. A few months later, I was back at work. It’s something I’m definitely proud of.”
Living a Full Life
Since returning home, Dallas takes every moment he can to celebrate life. When he isn’t at work, he divides his time between his passions of traveling and giving back to the spinal cord injury community.
“Traveling is one of my biggest passions,” Dallas says. “I’ve traveled more post-injury than before! In 2019, I visited seven countries during the first six months.”
He joined the leadership team of United Spinal D.C., a local chapter of the United Spinal Association serving individuals with SCI in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia through advocacy, recreational opportunities and community resources. He has attended three national leadership conferences with the United Spinal Association and has planned and executed several successful fundraisers for the organization.
“We do a wheelchair basketball tournament with 20 teams,” Dallas explains. “It involves securing corporate sponsors, getting the word out and organizing the event. It’s had a great turnout, and I’m proud to be part of it.”
Dallas hopes to spread a message of positivity to his fellow spinal cord injury survivors.
“Take rehabilitation day by day,” Dallas says. “The number one thing you will think about is walking, but there are so many other things you will realize mean more than that. Don’t let this stop you from living.”
Written by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.