Determined. Inspiring. Strong.
Just some of the words that many would use to describe Joe Bonelli.
Many people in town know Joe. His own father calls him an unofficial mayor of the Boulevard as he’s always spotted on the streets talking to a random passerby or one of his groups of friends.
He doesn’t let his physical limitations stop him from getting out just about every day. One of his usual spots is outside , which is just a block away from where he lives and is easy to get to in his motorized wheelchair.
Those that know him say Joe’s experience and daily challenges have really made him more in touch with others and therefore he serves as an inspiration to so many.
By looking at him one would not know that several years ago an accident left him paralyzed from the neck down he was told he'd never move again. Over the past several years he has continuously beat many odds, working continuously towards his goal.
“I just want to be able to play with my kids again. That’s my goal,” Bonelli says who has to endure physical therapy everyday to help him regain the full use of his legs.
Despite a dire diagnosis that he’d never walk again, today he is able to stand and take a few steps but much more therapy is needed.
He is currently working towards acquiring a piece of equipment known as MOTOmed a motorized movement therapy system for people in wheelchairs which would help him regain strength in his legs and really help him get his life back, his friends and family say.
His life had changed in just a matter of 10 seconds, nearly seven years ago.
Bonelli was playing with his kids, enjoying a day in an above ground inflatable pool at a party for one of his children. While trying to avoid the children as he dove in, Bonelli’s head crashed into the base of the pool which was made out of railroad tire wall something he himself had put in as part of the support for the pool.
Injuries were severe. He had cracked his third vertebrae and crushed his fourth.
He remembers lying in a hospital bed wondering if he’d even make it. But he went on to beat the odds. It took about a year for him to be able to move at all. and Bonelli says it’s taken about five years since to get to where he is now. He has full use of his left hand but his right hand is still limited.
“The last leg is the hardest part, to get up and walk but it’s happening,” he says.
Each day is a challenge but he keeps pushing. Bonelli’s father, also named Joe, says he gives his son credit for staying so focused. He still needs help getting out of bed. A motorized chair helps him get to the second floor of their home so he can get to the bathroom. His mother Chris points out the living room has been arranged in a way so that Joe can get around in his wheelchair.
Bonelli has a routine every day that involves medicines and working out with machines to help regain strength in his arms and legs. Last week a trainer brought over a brace that is used to hold his leg in place giving him the support needed to regain enough strength to be able to walk again.
His kindness towards others is recognized by the people’s he’s touched and in return they are there working to help Joe literally take those next steps.
“Joe is one of the greatest people I know,” said Meredith Connors who is the co-owner of on the Boulevard who has gotten to know Bonelli from meeting him on the street near her shop.
“He has a great outlook on life and he is so caring of other people. He always wants to help someone and not because he wants to get something in return, that's just the man he is,” Connors said.
She is hoping to get a cut-a-thon event together to raise funds that will him purchase the equipment he needs.
A random encounter at the local bank led to Joe’s friendship with Matt Maginley. Matt recalls the first time he saw Joe trying to use the ATM machine. Joe was having some trouble using the machine and asked Matt to help him enter his pin number. Matt said his heart sunk at the realization that this man was willing to trust a complete stranger with personal information. The two became friends and Joe’s father says Matt has been a great friend and extremely helpful to Joe.
He has been helping Joe work with voice recognition software so he can begin blogging online to share his story and reach out to even more people through the Internet. He has since begun blogging for Hasbrouck Heights Patch.
Bonelli’s father said Joe has a great attitude and where has at times he does get depressed he always picks himself up again. He’s been a great inspiration to many he’s encountered through his therapy. Bonelli’s father says during the time Joe was in rehab at Helen Hayes he received an award for the help he gave to others.
His father recalls being approached by nurses at Helen Hayes who would tell him what Joe would do for the others at the rehab center. If they saw a patient in need of some encouragement and reassurance they would call Joe in to speak with them.
“I just want to help anyone else out there. I want to talk to people who have disabilities and tell them not to give up. There are lots of things they can do,” Bonelli says.