UroMed’s Eric Kolar Pays It Forward

Editor’s Note: At 15-years-old, Eric Kolar never could have imagined that one night out with his friends would change his life forever.  Today, quadriplegic Eric Kolar manages the Virginia branch office for UroMed, one of the nation’s largest urology supply companies.  Outside of work, he volunteers as a peer counselor for the non-profit program, Life After Spinal Cord Injury.  Eric feels that sharing his story of recovery and success after his SCI is just one way to pay it forward as gratitude to all that helped him find his own path in life.  Part 1 of a 4-part series.

Eric Kolar pays it forward everyday at UroMed as he assists other customers with SCI.

Eric Kolar pays it forward everyday at UroMed as he assists other customers with SCI.

In 1992, I finished my last day of ninth grade on a Monday. On late Thursday night, some friends and I went out for a good time. We drove to Phenix City, Alabama, from Columbus, Georgia, where I lived, picked-up a few friends and returned to Columbusto go swimming at an apartment complex.

When we got to the complex, it was closed, and all the lights around the swimming pool had been turned off. We decided to climb the fence and go swimming anyway. I was 15-years-old and considered myself an athlete.

As we reached the edge of the pool, I prepared to make a shallow dive at the shallow end of the pool and then skim across the surface of the water. The side of the pool was really slick. When I pushed-off the edge of the pool to make the dive, my foot slipped, and I went directly into the shallow end of the pool head-first. Although I had my hand out in front of me, I still hit my head on the bottom of the pool. When I opened my eyes in the water, I thought, “Oh, no!” I used my arms to swim to the surface, because I couldn’t use my legs. When I reached the edge of the pool, I said to my friends, “Get me out of the water; I can’t move my legs.”

Blood was streaming down my face from a head wound. A couple of the girls with us started screaming. Remember, we were teenagers, so we were scared, and we never even considered calling 9-1-1, because we were somewhere we weren’t supposed to be, at a time of night that we weren’t supposed to be there.

Eric could have never guessed that one night goofing off with high school friends would change his life forever.

Eric could have never guessed that one night goofing off with high school friends would change his life forever.

My friends pulled me out of the pool and laid me on the ground. I knew then that I was hurt badly, because I couldn’t even sit up. My friends lifted me up over the privacy fence, ran with me about 1/4-mile up a steep hill, stuffed me in the back seat of a two-door car, and had me sitting-up as they drove to the emergency room.

I was going in and out of consciousness during the trip to the ER. My legs felt like wet rubber when I was awake. When we reached the ER, I totally freaked out, and my buddies called my parents.

In the ER, I got a break. The attending physician was my best friend’s dad, and that was the most-comforting feeling I’d ever had. At this time, I was mainly worried that I would be grounded, because I had stayed-out past my curfew. Later, the doctor determined that I’d broken my neck at the C6 and the C7 parts of my spine and would be a quadriplegic.

About 2 days later, I realized the seriousness of my injury and knew that I wouldn’t ever be what I considered “normal” again. I remember lying in the bed with a big Philadelphia hard collar on my neck. I was in a bed that rotated back and forth, so that my body would maintain its circulation. For 3 days, I was given steroids to slow down the swelling of my spinal cord, and I couldn’t move my fingers at all. Finally, the doctor told me that I probably never would walk again.

UroMed’s Eric Kolar Remembers the Words that Changed His Life Forever

Eric was part of a military family who had plans to move to Germany from Fort Benning, GA.

Eric was part of a military family who had plans to move to Germany from Fort Benning, GA.

When I heard the words, “You probably will never walk again,” I was really upset. I told my dad, “I guess my future will be getting a job and sitting in front of a computer for the rest of my life.” As an athlete, my future looked dismal at best.

Remember that I was only 15, and at that time I only knew one person in a wheelchair, Leslie Taylor, who went to high school with me. She was a junior when I was a freshman, and she was the only person in my entire school in a wheelchair. Later in life, she was crowned Miss Wheelchair Georgia.

During my hospital stay, many of my friends came to visit me. A lot of ladies from Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, came out to see me, because that’s where my dad worked as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. But I still didn’t have my head around the idea that I’d never walk again.

However, two weeks later, I went to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., for rehab. I stayed in bed for about 2 days, before I was placed in a wheelchair. I passed-out when the attendants put me in a wheelchair the first time.

So, the nurses put an abdominal binder, which looks like a big thick rubber band, around my waist to maintain my circulation and prevent another blackout. After I got in that wheelchair, I finally came to the realization that this would be my mode of transportation for the rest of my life.

One of my biggest concerns was for my family. I was afraid I had crushed their dreams as well as my own. My dad had gone to the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, and stayed there as an admissions officer before being transferred to Fort Benning. He had dreamed of moving all of us to Germany but now we couldn’t.

I went through what everyone who has a serious injury goes through for the first couple of weeks I was in rehab. I questioned, “Why me?”

Soon I discovered that the Shepherd Center had an underground tunnel that went from the center across the street. So, when I got really upset and started crying, I got in my wheelchair and rolled down the tunnel across the street, turned around and came back. I went back and forth, back and forth until I calmed down in a place where no one would see me cry.

Eric learned early on that helping others was the best way to help himself. Here he takes his grandma for a spin around town.

Eric learned early on that helping others was the best way to help himself. Here he takes his grandma for a spin around town.

I was having a pity party for myself. My mom had died when I was a child, now my back was broken, and we wouldn’t be able to move to Germany. Not only had I screwed-up my entire life, but I’d also messed-up the lives of everyone in my family.

However,  after many times of doing this, I started to notice that I had more dexterity in my fingers, and that I actually could feel my upper body gaining strength. And, being at the Shepherd Center, meeting and getting to know other people with spinal-cord injuries and seeing others who were more-severely injured than me helped me get over those feelings.

One of the people I met was a 12-year-old boy who had been hit by an eighteen-wheeler while riding his bike. All he could do was blink his eyes. He couldn’t even hold-up his head, and he was totally dependent on other people just to stay alive. I finally realized that there were a lot of people injured far worse than me.

Other than the 12-year-old boy, everyone else at the Shepherd Center was 2- to 5-years older than me. I realized that there were people who needed more help than I did. So, I started doing little things for them.

For instance, one guy was a smoker, so I lit his cigarettes and put them in his mouth for him. Since everyone had a backpack on the back of the wheelchair, I’d help people get their stuff out of those backpacks. I didn’t ask to be in this wheelchair, but I needed to start helping others and stop being concerned about myself.

After working at the Shepherd Center, Bert Burns founded UroMed & Life After Spinal Cord Injury.

After working at the Shepherd Center, Bert Burns founded UroMed & Life After Spinal Cord Injury.

Later, I met Bert Burns, the founder of UroMed, and he changed my life forever. When we met, Bert was the recreational therapist at the Shepherd Center. He was a quadriplegic and had a little-less dexterity than me, but he was huge. He was an extremely-muscular guy, yet he was in a wheelchair.

This really blew my mind, because I had considered most people in wheelchairs to be extremely frail. But here was this strong, muscular man in a wheelchair. I saw him getting in and out of vehicles, participating in sports and racing wheelchairs.

I couldn’t believe the idea of racing wheelchairs. I’d never even thought of putting those two words together. Bert took me to the big long hallway that went from the Shepherd Center to Piedmont Hospital and put me in a racing wheelchair. I pushed it and took-off like a rocket. I thought, “Wow, this is amazing!  There are a lot of things I still can do.”

Bert also would take us on outings to an Atlanta Braves baseball game or to Clemson University. On one of our trips to Clemson University, we went camping for a couple nights, and I got to ride ATVs, shoot weapons, go-out in a canoe and scuba dive. Okay, it was in a swimming pool, but I thought to myself, “How often do you get to go in a swimming pool and breathe underwater when you’re a quad?” I thought these adventures were amazing.

The most-important thing I learned from Bert was that there were still a number of things I could do, even in a wheelchair.

Eric likes to hand cycle in his free time.

Eric likes to hand cycle in his free time.

In 1992, the same year I broke my neck, Bert Burns went to Barcelona, Spain, as a member of the U.S.A. Olympic Team and earned a gold medal in wheelchair racing. So, here was a man in a wheelchair, who was my recreational therapist, and he’d won a gold medal in the Olympic Games.

In 1996, Bert went to Atlanta, Ga., and earned another gold medal in the Olympic Games. Later he started UroMed. I was one of Bert’s last patients at the Shepherd Center. Knowing Bert and seeing all that he accomplished turned my life around. The center and Bert changed my life completely and showed me what a person could do, even with a spinal-cord injury.

Next: Ways Eric Kolar Tried to Fit in While in a Wheelchair as a Teenager

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

About UroMed Catheters
Headquartered in Suwanee, GA [a suburb of Atlanta], UroMed is one of the nation’s leading providers of single-use catheters, urological and disposable medical supplies, including intermittent catheters, closed system catheters, condom catheters, pediatric catheters and continence care products. UroMed is nationally accredited for Medicare reimbursement and most state Medicaid plans, and partners with private health insurance providers and health plans to provide patients with single-use catheters, catheter kits and incontinence products. UroMed also has seven staffed regional offices located in Boston, MA; Columbia, SC; Jacksonville, FL; Dallas, TX; Carlsbad, CA; Knoxville, TN; Richmond, VA; and Baton Rouge, LA; enabling next-day delivery after a customer’s initial medical supply order. For more information, please visit http://www.uromed.com or call 1-800-841-1233.

10 Responses to UroMed’s Eric Kolar Pays It Forward

  1. This is my friend and he is amazing in every way! God bless him forever! Much Love and RESPECT for you my dear! 🙂

  2. rex wade says:

    I know this Eric Kolar. Nice fellow indeed and most of this story I had no idea about. Part of his story is missing though…he had the loudest and best sounding car stereo while we were in high school. And actually to tell you the truth, when I think about Eric, I don’t even think “wheel chair”, I think just “him”. Just a regular guy in my opinion.

  3. Melissa Urban Tranmer says:

    So proud of Eric, and the fact he has chosen to go on with his life, and make sure others know they can do anything they want to do, even with SCI.. Such a blessing to call him a friend, and so proud of the man he has become. Amazing story, Eric, and keep up the great work! 😀 And yes, his system in his car was somethin’ serious! 😀

  4. Tiffany Ballard says:

    Much like Rex Wade said above, in high school I never saw Eric and his wheelchair, I only saw Eric. This article is amazing and deeply inspiring for me. After very recently losing most of my sight, I am at the stage where I am in that underground tunnel “dealing with” my new reality. It’s tough, but after reading this article, it had helped me to realize my life is not over. I can be a blessing to someone through my story and my life.

  5. Rex said it well. He was always happy and upbeat and an inspiration to others in high school that even though you may not have the best circumstances, you still make the best of your life and live it to the fullest and that is what he did.

  6. Jose Santiago says:

    This is My Best Friend Eric Kolar and he is and amazing Pearson inside and out and my self and my family are very proud of him he has come along way, great article .

  7. Christina says:

    I went to school with Eric also but I don’t remember him being quadriplegic. I always thought he was a Paraplegia.

  8. Stacey Fields says:

    I think that there are myths about people with spinal cord injuries, especially when it comes to quality of life. Eric has easily dispelled that myth, and he is helping others in the process.

  9. pepper says:

    I too went to school with Eric and he is an amazing person. I never saw him without a smile or cracking a joke. As a person he is an inspiration handicapped or not!

  10. I”m in awe of Eric. I support all of those statements before, I just thought of him as the guy with the very cool car.

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