Take Another Look
Jack Weeks' life changed with a single leap. His story isn't just a cautionary tale, though -- it's also a story of hope.
Before his injury, Jack Weeks, 16, was the mischievous kid who would prank his friends by staying too long underwater, coming up in a dead-man’s float. So, after Jack dove head-first into the Atlantic Ocean during a beach vacation, his cousin wasn’t about to be a sucker again when Jack remained motionless after slowly floating back to the surface.
But Jack wasn’t joking this time. His head had struck the bottom of the shallow water, damaging his C-4 to -6 vertebrae and instantly paralyzing him from the shoulders down.
Quickly, though, Jack’s cousin realized this was real. He got Jack to shore and found a doctor and EMT on the beach to perform CPR.
When Jack’s mom, Cammie, reached the scene, another relative told her Jack was breathing.
“So, at first, we were relieved,” Cammie recalls.
But as the EMTs loaded Jack onto a stretcher, Cammie’s relief evaporated. She saw Jack’s arms flop down, over the sides. Her heart sank with them.
“That’s when I knew, uh oh, something’s really wrong here,” Cammie recalls.
Getting from that moment on June 27, 2020, to today — where Jack is learning to live independently in an adaptive apartment attached to his family’s home in Gorham, Maine — has been an immense challenge. Thanks to the love and support of his family, and care at Shepherd Center, Jack’s story is an uplifting one now. Still, he’s not done trying to scare his friends when it comes to the water — scare them straight, that is.
“Look before you jump,” Jack cautions. “Before you do anything, really. Just be smart.”
His mother is even more direct: “No diving.”
Attitude is Everything
Throughout his rehabilitation, Jack was always thinking of others. During his time at Shepherd Center, he was often called “The Mayor” for how quick he was to greet newcomers to the program and get them involved.
Jack says the community structure of Shepherd Center’s Adolescent Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Program helped him mentally. He became lasting friends with other teenagers who’d sustained similar injuries. By day, the boys would motivate each other in physical and recreational therapy. After hours, they would challenge each other to wheelchair races in the hallways, put together movie nights and talk frankly about their hopes and fears.
“We all kind of knew what each other was going through and could help each other out,” Jack says. “We’d say, ‘hey, attitude is everything. Be positive. Don’t beat yourself up for what you did or how your injury happened. Just roll with the punches. Look at what’s in front of you.’”
As Jack progressed through his rehabilitation, Cammie took her own classes, learning to become Jack’s primary caregiver.
“Everyone at Shepherd Center was so kind and loving and giving of their knowledge and support,” Cammie says. “They really make it feel possible, that you’ll be able to do this. And you can, of course! I feel so comfortable taking care of Jack at home now.”
Jack returned to Maine in winter 2021 to a new home. Jack’s parents, who are divorced but remain close friends, sold their respective houses to buy a larger place that would meet Jack’s needs. Now, the entire family — including his brother Gus, 9, and sister Maggie, 11 — is living together as “Jack’s Lair” comes to life: voice-activated lighting, heating and entertainment systems, an adaptive bathroom, and an easy-to-navigate living area of his own.
For Jack, a typical Saturday revolves around the same things most teenagers crave: a late wake-up call, time spent playing video games and texting with friends he made at Shepherd Center. If it’s nice, the family gets outside. If not, they don’t sweat it if they’re all still in their pajamas come the afternoon.
“That’s what’s important for other families to know,” Cammie says. “We laugh all the time. We do goofy things. We’re happy. Sure, it’s not always easy to stay positive, but you can’t go down those rabbit holes all the time. I look at Jack and see him smile, and I can say, ‘OK, we’re good.’”
Cammie wants families in other situations to feel the same way.
“We have 4.5 acres here at our house, and part of our long-term goal is to build accessible trails here to bring others out to enjoy the land,” Cammie says. “No stigma, no worries. Just a place to feel happiness. We could also bring Jack’s friends from Shepherd Center up here. Like a big summer camp for everyone to enjoy together.”
Looking to the Future
While the Weeks preach injury prevention whenever they have the chance, they also know they must look forward. And they remain thankful for the unexpected blessings that have emerged.
For Jack, that’s meant a new outlook on life.
“Before, I wasn’t really optimistic. I lived in the moment only,” he says. “Now, kinda weirdly, I’m super optimistic. I know everything’s a process. So I just go with the flow and look to the future. I’m hopeful.”
For Cammie, the most rewarding outcome has been watching a previously disconnected family reunite.
“Our family’s gotten so much stronger,” Cammie says. “Things that Jack and I wouldn’t have shared or talked about together, we do now. Our bond is tighter. We wish Jack wasn’t injured, of course. But we’ve also realized what the important parts of life are. For us now, it’s all about love, sharing your experience and helping others.”
Written by Phillip Jordan
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 743 inpatients, 277 day program patients and more than 7,161 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.