“He was dealt a hand that not many of us could handle.”
Frank Guirlinger was a construction entrepreneur working about 20 hours per day and raising a family. Frank prioritized physical fitness and caring for his body. However, with a heavy workload that included demanding physical labor, he started to feel overworked, run down, and sick.
Weeks of back pain were misdiagnosed as a temporary health issue. He was prescribed pain relievers, which masked his rising fever.
Overnight, Frank was robbed of his mobility as he experienced a life-changing medical event.
A Medical Crisis Changed Everything
“One morning, I got up and dropped to the floor.”
Frank was living with a life-threatening spinal cord abscess. The diagnosis carries a high risk of death even when it’s caught early.
While emergency medical care stabilized Frank and saved his life, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He spent 100 days in the hospital receiving intensive therapy and medical care.
Facing Life with Paralysis—and a Dire Prognosis
When he left the hospital, Frank could only move his right hand.
The prognosis was dire: his medical team told him he may make some limited progress over a year of intensive rehabilitation, but after that, his mobility would never improve. As he heard this news, Frank asked himself:
“Why would I settle for that?”
A physical fitness fanatic pre-injury, Frank knew what the human body was capable of. He committed to intensive recovery—and hope.
The Cost of Life with a Spinal Cord Injury
On top of medical care and home health equipment, Frank’s intensive rehabilitation would cost $2,700 per week to maintain.
“This type of recovery is never fully covered by insurance.”
With no way to cover backup transportation, Frank became reliant on a single accessible vehicle. At one point, he watched his 13-year-old daughter change a tire so they could make it home. An active parent and consistent provider, Frank felt helpless—limited by his mobility and unable to assist her.
Medical Fundraising and Community Support
That’s when friends stepped in to offer help at his time of need.
In August 2019, Frank’s friends helped launch a fundraising campaign in his honor with Help Hope Live. They raised $8,000 to assist with the most immediate costs associated with his paralysis recovery journey.
The assistance lifted some of the immense financial burden off of Frank’s family—providing a lifeline and a source of hope.
Hitting a Wall—and Fighting Forward
While diligently pursuing conventional rehabilitation, Frank began to hit a wall. He pivoted to focus on other potential pathways, including nutrition management and holistic therapies. As COVID-19 struck the nation, he took over his own training and physical recovery at home.
“I kept fighting forward—every which way.”
After four years, Frank unlocked a future that defied his prognosis. He became fully independent. He regained personal function and enough movement to care for his immediate needs, from dressing himself to feeding himself and beyond. He can now get up and walk using a walker instead of a wheelchair. When his accessible van broke down, Frank even re-learned how to drive a standard vehicle out of necessity.
Staying Grounded with Two Key Learnings
Two learnings helped Frank stay on course mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as he battled for mobility and independence.
First, a positive thought and a negative thought can’t occupy the same mind at the same time. “I don’t dwell on anything but solutions and education. I have a 5-minute pity party when something goes wrong because I’m a human being, but then I replace those thoughts with positive thoughts.”
“I don’t think about what I can’t do. I think about what I can do.”
Second, gratitude is everything.
“You just don’t know how lucky you are to be able to fill up a gas tank until your kids are filling a cup with pennies and nickels for gas to get to school.”
Before the injury, Frank says he knew intellectually how blessed he was. Today, gratitude has new meaning to him—amplified to a new level of appreciation.
“You don’t know how good it is to scratch your own face until you can’t.”
Life Today: Tears of Sadness to Tears of Joy
Today, Frank’s community has raised over $23,000 in his honor—and he says:
“I am loving life.”
Frank considers faith and community support to be the two pillars of his paralysis recovery journey. Even as his independence and mobility have evolved, friends remain ready to step in.
When Frank’s accessible van died “a rather dramatic death” and he began to experience the threat of losing his job as a result, it was their time to shine once again. They donated their time, money, and trade skills to make the repairs needed to get Frank back on the road.
“It was a desperate situation—but thanks to them, it’s been amazing.”
Hope Isn’t Just Personal
Frank’s hope for the future extends beyond meeting his immediate needs. He wants to talk to young men in his area who have survived spinal cord injuries and introduce a new vision of the future—even after they’ve received a limited medical prognosis.
“They saved my life with modern medicine, but when that hit a dead end, we pivoted. If you hit a plateau, explore a new pathway.”
Frank is realistic about the challenges he still faces—but:
“When I’m about ready to cry tears from being sad, they turn to tears of joy. A lot of beautiful people have stepped in.”
Loved ones helped Frank find the beautiful and the hopeful in the midst of hardship.
“The most beautiful thing has been all the people who have contributed to the recovery and supported my family. People have come through and assisted us in our need.”
These insights on Frank’s journey come from his interview with Jeff Sloan for the Pre W. Smith Show. His community will continue to rely on our trusted medical fundraising for a lifetime of injury-related expenses at helphopelive.org.
Photos for this post were provided by our client, a resident of Michigan where the use of cannabis is legal for residents 21 and older. Inclusion of these images does not imply endorsement.Written by Emily Progin