Julia | Community Stories

“So I think that one of the happiest moments in my life it’s actually two moments.  One was when the doctors told me that my husband Kristopher wouldn’t be paralyzed after his surgery, and then the other moment was eight months later when I saw him walk the first time.

She pauses, “when I think about this it’s tragic, but also a great time.

He surprised me, and went to my library in grad school.  I had a lot of friends there, who were used to seeing him in a wheelchair, and many of them didn’t know our back story. He just got up out of his wheelchair in the middle of the library and started walking towards me, and I just started balling.”

“Oh my god, how did this happen?” I ask.

“He was paragliding in Bolivia and ran into a building with his two feet forward.   It was a half finished building.  In Bolivia there are a lot of half finished buildings, and he was trying to avoid a barb that would have stabbed him, and so instead he angled himself to hit the building instead.

He was so calm when he landed.  He said he was fine, because he could feel his legs and also he didn’t want me to freak out.  People put him on to a board, and  even when he went into the hospital he was so calm.  He said he could feel everything, and he kept the people around us calm too.  He had x-rays, and they said parts were shattered, so it was amazing that he wasn’t paralyzed right then.

Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, and it was pretty scary.  He couldn’t travel because his feet were shattered.  So, he had to have emergency spinal cord surgery there. They didn’t have the supplies, so they had to ship the supplies to the hospital, even though they should have waited.   Later, they had to do ankle surgery too.

Being in Bolivia was a very sad time, but the people there came out to help us.  Strangers from everywhere came out to help us.  We found this strength together, and he wasn’t paralyzed, so we were just happy.

Later, when he was recovering at his Aunt’s house in Wisconsin, we had a lot of time to ourselves.  That was where we fell in love, and while he was getting better we just had a lot of time.  Every year we had worked so hard,  so it was amazing to have this time together.

Before all this happened, we had plans for me to go to grad school. Before Obamacare, Massachusetts was the only state that you could go to with a pre-existing condition, so we moved there.  With the care he had there, he was able to learn how to walk again.

I’m a pretty serious student, and I was to grad school at Harvard, but I would play hooky sometimes.  We were just so grateful that he was okay, that we would go out, eat lobster, and go to the beach.  We just felt so lucky, like we had a second lease on life.”


Madison Community Discourse is a community arts nonprofit in Madison, WI.  We are studying happiness throughout the community to connect our city through experience. We do this through interviews, events, and creative placemaking explorations.

To connect people through experience, we are interviewing 200 people all over Madison to create a ‘portrait’ of happiness.  If you are interested in being interviewed, please email hello@madisoncommunitydiscourse.com

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