Two Hard Shots from Mother Nature Couldn’t Knock-Out Eric Kolar

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 3 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.

Often, people in wheelchairs have reservations about pursuing the job of their dreams, or moving across the country for their career. I’d like to share my own story of career progression and my move to Virginia with a recent promotion, not to brag but to encourage other wheelchair users to step out in pursuit of their career goals.

I started working for UroMed in Georgia, in 2006, and I worked at their headquarters location until July 2011. However, a lot of my family lives in Virginia. My mother’s entire side of the family lives there, and I hadn’t seen them since my injury in 1992. So, I spread the word around the office that if UroMed ever expanded a branch inVirginia, I’d like to move there and run it.

About a year ago, UroMed decided to expand the branch in Richmond, VA. However, I was seriously dating someone, so I didn’t want to leave Georgia. I turned down the opportunity to move to Virginia and UroMed hired someone else to run the Virginia branch.  Fortunately, 8 months later, the position opened-up again because by that time, my girlfriend and I had broken-up.

I was excited about moving to Richmond. However, when I went up on a weekend to find an apartment, I had a terrible time locating one with the accessibility I needed. One of the problems that people in wheelchairs often face is that just because an apartment or a condo advertises that it’s handicap-accessible doesn’t always mean it’s accessible to everyone in a wheelchair.

The jokes about Eric's apartment have only gotten better after he moved in. He recently received a note from management telling him to move his bikes out of the breezeway or else he would be fined. What bikes?  Eric is obviously in a wheelchair.

The jokes about Eric's apartment have only gotten better after he moved in. He recently received a note from management telling him to move his bikes out of the breezeway or else he would be fined. What bikes? Eric is obviously in a wheelchair.

When I was looking for an apartment, I’d roll into the office, and they clearly could see I was in a wheelchair. Yet the manager still would try to show me an apartment on the second floor, which didn’t make any sense at all.

The deciding factor for me always is the lay-out of the bathroom. If you’re in a wheelchair, you need good accessibility in a bathroom. You need access to the toilet, shower and sink, and if you don’t have good access to those things, you don’t want to live there.

I looked for 3 days. Many of the doors weren’t wide enough for my wheelchair, or perhaps the apartment was upstairs, or the bathroom wasn’t set-up properly. I couldn’t find an apartment on the weekend, so I stayed over until Monday. I finally settled on an apartment, even though the toilet was completely opposite to what I was accustomed to.

I had to get back to work in Georgia, so I made all my moving arrangements. When the movers finally got toVirginia with all my stuff, they piled it all up to the ceiling, and there was no way I could reach it. Luckily, I had enough linens to make-up my bed.

My family came-down the following weekend to help me get everything unpacked and squared-away in the apartment. However, my new office at UroMed needed to be squared-away, too. So, I moved from one mess to another. Two weeks later, I finally got the office squared-away when Mother Nature did her best to punch me out.

Eric drives himself to work everyday in his customized Volvo.

Eric drives himself to work everyday in his customized Volvo.

The UroMed office is across the street from a municipal airport, so small jets often come in and out of the airport. I was working on my computer one day in August when I heard a sound, like a blast from a rock quarry or a really big plane coming-in for a landing.

I didn’t know what was happening. I looked-out the window to see what was going on, and just as I rolled back to look behind me, the book shelves in my office started swaying back and forth. I could feel the ground moving under my chair. I thought, “What in the world is going on?”

When I turned back to look-out the window, the blinds were slapping against the glass of the windowpane, and all I could see was the people across the street frantically running-out of their building. The scene was one of total chaos. It dawned on me that this was an earthquake – my first one.

UroMed made the Richmond office more accessible for Eric by arranging materials and supplies at a level he could easily reach. That was good planning too for when he had to put everything back on the shelves following the Virginia earthquake!

UroMed made the Richmond office more accessible for Eric by arranging materials and supplies at a level he could easily reach. That was good planning too for when he had to put everything back on the shelves following the Virginia earthquake!

I froze-up for about 10 seconds. I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I decided to get out of the building in case it caved-in. When I finally made it outside, people were running in all directions. I screamed, “What’s going on!” Someone said, “It’s an earthquake.”

The ground continued to tremble for about 30 seconds. Later, I learned that it was a 5.8 to a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Ashland,Virginia, which is about 5-miles north of Richmond.

The earthquake was on a Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday of the same week, the radio and the television were blaring warnings of a tropical storm. By Saturday morning, we had a driving rainstorm. I looked-out the window at 6:00 am and couldn’t believe how hard it was raining.

At 10:00 am, the power in my apartment went-out, and this was during the summer. Like most quadriplegics, I don’t sweat, which means we feel the heat much worse than people who can sweat. I felt like a dog locked in a hot car with all the windows rolled-up. I needed to get the exterior of my body cooled-down somehow.

Eric will tell you that when life hands you a hurricane, the best response is to reach for a hamburger!

Eric will tell you that when life hands you a hurricane, the best response is to reach for a hamburger!

By 2:00 pm, the hurricane hit, and there was no power anywhere. I didn’t know what to do. Knowing that the storm was coming, I’d prepared by going to Wal-Mart the day before it hit, but the only light I could find at that moment was a small light that clipped to the bill of a baseball cap. So, I put-on my baseball cap with the light attached to the top to see how to move-around in my apartment.

Then a couple of my neighbors called to say there were some restaurants a few blocks away that still had power. I finally got out of the apartment, went to the restaurant that was about two blocks away, ordered some food and watched football on TV. The power was finally restored in my apartment on Sunday.

However, when I got to work the next day, there was no power at the office. There were a lot of trees and power lines down, and we had had some water come into our offices. I was the only person working in the building — and I had just rolled in the door to find a flood. 

I thought, “What’s going to happen next? I just moved toVirginia, and I’ve survived the apartment hunt from hell, as well as an earthquake and a hurricane all within a week!”

I say all of this as a joke, and hope that if you are in a wheelchair, that this doesn’t discourage you from picking up to move for your dream job.  I’ve taken everything in stride and absolutely love my job and my home in Richmond.  The folks at UroMed have been great too in making sure I have had everything I need while moving and getting settled in my new role with the company.

So don’t be afraid to live and work independently.  If I can do it, you can do it! 
And chances are, you won’t have to fight off an earthquake or a hurricane when you do.

Next:  Eric Kolar Supports Others on Life after Spinal Cord Injury (LASCI) on Facebook

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.

2 Responses to Two Hard Shots from Mother Nature Couldn’t Knock-Out Eric Kolar

  1. Pingback: A Teenaged Eric Kolar Tried to Fit in While in a Wheelchair « UroMed Catheter Health Blog

  2. Debbie Schow says:

    If you can get through that you can get through anything. I’ve found that people with disabilities handle crises better than most, maybe because we know that we can handle whatever happens and have done before.
    In any case glad you are settled in now and enjoying your new home. Your company is lucky to have you as an employee.

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