Memorial Day diving accident leaves Knoxville man paralyzed but determined

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — One Knoxville man is learning a new way of life after a diving accident in Florida on Memorial Day weekend left him paralyzed from the chest down.

“We weren’t necessarily on a sandbar, so I was going to take a dive in,” began 28-year-old Trey Byrd. “I knew it was shallow so I took a dive outwards as much as I could, but somehow caught the left side of my head on the sand and drug my head backwards.”

That’s the moment his C6 vertebrae was crushed. Byrd said he remembered people helping him get to shore and staying calm while they waited for help to arrive. Trey ultimately ended up at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

“I’m very, very fortunate that I was able to get into the Shepherd Center,” said Byrd. “Probably the best institution I could be in for a spinal cord injury, at least in the Southeast and maybe even the entire country.”

So far, Trey has undergone a handful of surgeries. he explained the surgeon’s goal was to give him the best chance to regain as much functionality as possible.

“I went through two surgeries pretty shortly after the incident where they recreated the C6 the night of the accident,” he said. “I’m very thankful to the surgeon that came in to do so.”

After the initial surgeries, Byrd explained there was a third to ensure the strength of the new C6. He also talked about where he’s at in the rehabilitation process.

“I still have functionality in my arms.” Just this past week, Trey said he was able to feed himself for the first time since the accident. “It was just an incredible feeling to gain some level of autonomy.”

There are a lot of people helping him do that, some of whom he said he doesn’t even know.

“I never would have imagined random strangers, not even random family friends I haven’t met, but just totally random people reaching out, sending cards, messaging us, giving out our number to others who have been in similar experiences,” he explained. “It’s just been shocking.”

Many of those supporting him are via Facebook on the ‘Pray4Trey” group. There is also a GoFundMe for the family.

While Trey has accepted he can’t change what happened on the water that Memorial Day, he knows he can control his attitude moving forward.

“I hope it’s a story of determination, ultimately a comeback story that can inspire others to not only live life to the fullest, but to have faith,” Byrd said. “I think just keeping a positive attitude and being happy will certainly contribute to a quicker recovery.”

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