Transverse Myelitis Association
Volume 5 Issue 1
December 2002

Page 12

Cody’s Scuba Adventure
Paula Lazzeri and Pauline Siegel

Sandy received a letter from Cody Unser in January 2002. Cody explained that her foundation was sponsoring Cody’s Scuba Adventure at Treasure Island Resort in Grand Cayman, the British West Indies.  Cody said that her physical therapist, Stacey Minton, was also a scuba instructor, and had encouraged Cody to learn to scuba dive. In the summer of 2000, Cody received her Open Water Scuba Certification during a diving trip in Florida.  She explained that it was one of the most important and liberating experiences she had ever had, and she wanted to share this experience with other paraplegics.  In her letter to Sandy she said,

The reason I am writing to you is that this is a quality of life project for my foundation, and you have had a deep impact on the quality of my life.  We are asking 10 people who have been very important to me to each make a selection from their hospital, rehab facility, foundation or geographic region. Therefore I am asking you to select someone you deem worthy and qualified – a medically sound paraplegic of any age (over 12) and a partner to join me for this awesome adventure. All expenses – air, lodging, food and scuba certification – will be covered by my foundation.

The day after receiving the letter, Sandy called Shelley Unser to make a special request.  He told Shelley that he wanted to ask for permission to have the two of us go on the trip.  This was a very special favor to ask of Cody and Shelley for a number of reasons. First, since both of us have TM, we were going to require special instruction in different cities. We were going to be traveling from different cities. We would not be able to help each other, since we both had TM; we would not be able to handle all of the physical needs a partner without TM would be able to do, such as carrying luggage and our scuba equipment. Allowing the two of us to go on Cody’s Scuba Adventure, represented an additional cost and more logistics complications for Cody, Shelly, and the organizers. And the situation was further complicated by the medical requirements. In order to receive medical permission to train and attend the scuba adventure, the level of spinal cord effect had to be such that upper body and lung involvement was not a problem. This was not the case for Paula who had both upper body involvement and some lung issues. Shelley never flinched when Sandy presented her with his great plan, and she immediately said that she and Cody would love to have us on the trip and they would make everything work.

Pauline: Sandy called me at school after he talked to Shelley. I love the water. My family owned a boat when I was a child and we spent many wonderful hours on the water during the summer time. I have been on snorkeling trips many times. I even took Sandy on a snorkeling trip on our honeymoon, and Sandy does not like the water. He is always telling me that Jewish people only swim with fish that have fins and scales. Becoming a scuba diver has been a lifelong dream for me and when I got TM I really thought that this dream would just never come true. Sandy told me that I was going on the scuba adventure. I screamed with excitement and had a permanent smile fixed on my face for weeks.

Paula: Sandy called me and explained that he had received this wonderful honor from Cody and was being asked to select a paraplegic and a partner to go on a scuba trip. He said that he wanted for me to go with Pauline. I accepted this gracious offer and then had immediate reservations.  Sandy and I began an email exchange that lasted for a couple days. As I am impacted higher on my spinal cord, I am not comfortable around the water. Sandy assured me that I would be in the water with twenty-seven guys who looked like the Chippendales. I told Sandy that it would be very difficult for me to travel across the country on my own and to go through all of the airports and flight changes. Sandy explained to me how he arranges flights for Pauline, and assured me that I could be accommodated; that traveling would be okay. And I had concerns about the bowel and bladder issues; how was I going to handle that in the ocean? Sandy responded that the good news was that they probably wouldn’t ask everyone to get out of the ocean to clean up an accident and that it would probably keep all of the sharks away. It all seemed overwhelming and a little frightening, but it was all too exciting not to try. So, I decided that I would go.

The first step was for us to receive medical permission to get the scuba training and to go on the open water dives. Pauline received permission. Paula was only given permission to participate in snorkeling. Stacey Minton, Cody’s scuba instructor and the adventure organizer, arranged for us to start instruction with teachers in Seattle and Columbus. Cody’s foundation was able to get all of the scuba gear donated and it was distributed to all of the participants from all over the country. Each participant began working with their instructors in their respective cities.

Paula: My instructor’s name was Craig Willemsen. He owns a scuba shop in Bellevue, WA not far from work and home. We began snorkeling lessons about two months prior to the trip. We worked in a local pool that was warmer than the average indoor pool. It was gradual progress with each time floating around the pool a little longer each lesson. I went from holding onto my instructor’s hand in the shallow end in fear to floating around the deep end by myself for 30 minutes at a time. I also learned how to clear water from my mask and signals to flag an instructor.  

Pauline: Stacy found a scuba school that was fairly close to my home and was able to arrange a wonderful instructor who worked with me, Joey Jacques. All of the instructors were required to be certified to work with and teach people from the disability community. We went through weeks of intensive training. I had to learn how to use all of the equipment and I had to learn how to perform various procedures under water. I was taken through a check-list of requirements in order to receive my certification. Then I had to pass a written exam. The purpose of the training was that we were going to be taken through all of the requirements for scuba certification before we left for the Caymans. We would perform our open water dives in the Caymans to complete our certification. I had as my goal to receive the full scuba certification. In order to do so, I was going to have to swim twenty-five laps in the pool. This seemed the most daunting of the requirements. I trained for months in order to build up the stamina to complete twenty-five laps. During one of my classes, Joey decided that I was ready to try, and he asked me to do the laps. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but I went ahead and tried. I completed my twenty-five laps in the pool!

Cody’s scuba adventure began on August 8th and ran through August 12th.

It was the most incredible time. We met the most wonderful people. There were eleven paraplegics on the trip with their companions and their scuba instructors and they came from all over the country. We were the only people with TM – and Cody. The other paraplegics had a myriad of spinal cord injuries and diseases. Each of the participants had the most incredible stories; and their participation in Cody’s Adventure was so inspirational for everyone.  

Pauline:  Cody’s adventure was the most amazing experience. I met such incredible people; the participants and the instructors were such awesome people. The dives were really beyond description. Our first dive was off one of the beaches near our hotel. The next dive was in 100 feet of water off of a boat. We also had a dive around a sunken ship. The last dive was in sting ray city. This was a dream come true for me. And to watch Paula’s transformation was really great. When she first went into the water, she was really cautious. By the end of the trip, she had become a fish. Paula was amazing.

Paula: Pauline and I had the BEST time. Pauline is quite the diver. I was inspired by every person there. There were 11 disabled participants. I was the only snorkeler and all the others were divers. After watching them scuba dive I really wanted to try. I am hoping to have a respiratory evaluation soon to see if I can dive. If I get a green light, I’ve been told I could be a participant again next year; as a diver. That would be great. The participants, volunteers, and instructors were all wonderful people. They had tons of media folks there to capture the whole event. Bob Martin is a reporter from the CBS affiliate in Albuquerque. Bob was on this adventure taking video footage of our every move both above and below the water. We were all sent a 30 minute video of our awesome trip. Bob also created a four-minute segment of the experience that ended up on American Stories on CNN and Speed Week. He made mention of TM several times. This was a perfect way to raise awareness about TM.  

We ate and drank well. The marine life and water was amazing. On Sunday we got to swim with sting rays. They are the most graceful and friendly marine animal there. I watched Pauline feed squid to a very large sting ray. We saw a ship wreck at the bottom of one reef, too.

Pauline and I missed one of our connecting flights on the way home.  Pauline had to spend the night in Chicago. I was on a plane with Cody, her siblings, and Bob Martin the videographer.  We spent the night in Dallas.  Pauline and I would like to thank Bob for helping us with the flight arrangements on the way home. We greatly appreciated your help and concern.  
Paula: Cody’s foundation has tried to focus on quality of life issues. She has impacted the quality of life of so many people. She has certainly impacted the quality of my life. I can only hope that I pass my respiratory exam with flying colors. To be able to dive like Pauline and all my new friends would be a dream come true. Thank you, Cody!

Pauline: I will never forget my first scuba trip. Cody is such an amazing person. She has her own life and her own challenges to deal with; she could be focused on herself and her own needs. And no one would judge her for just taking care of herself. She has chosen not to focus on herself. Cody has an amazing sensitivity, compassion and maturity. She wants to help others. She wants to share her passion for life. She had a great idea and she had the energy and enthusiasm to transform her great idea into a reality. Paula and I were the grateful recipients of her efforts.  What an incredible experience. Thank you, Cody.

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