An Interview with Maplewood's Ryan Burbank

"I plan on working hard so I can walk again," says Burbank, who will attend Saturday's "Ryan's Hope" benefit with his family.

Earlier this summer, 18-year-old Ryan Burbank -- a Maplewood resident and son of the township's Director of Public Works, Eric Burbank -- broke his C5 vertebrae in a pool accident, paralyzing him from the chest down.

In September, Ryan returned home after a two-month stay at the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange. On Saturday, HK Project and other friends are hosting "Ryan's Hope," a benefit to help the Burbank family (which also includes mother Carolyn and two brothers) with the purchase of a wheelchair van and alterations to their home. (The benefit is currently sold out; to make a donation visit the South Orange Elks webpage, or HK Project; click on the link that says “special instructions to seller” and type “Burbank”)

On Saturday from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m., organizers will be selling wrist bands in front of the Maplewood Post Office on Maplewood Avenue. The contribution for the wrist bands is $3.00/$2.00 for children. 

"There has been an amazing outpouring of support for the Burbank family from our wonderful community," said Janey DeLuca, one of the event's coordinators. "We have almost 200 prizes - most of them from local artists, businesses and restaurants.  For me, the most touching contributions have been from the people who are going to auction their services on Saturday night - babysitters, leaf rakers, handyman services, cooking classes, music for your next event and many others too numerous to list."

Ryan recently agreed to submit to a Patch Q&A via email. Here are his responses.

Can you fill us in on your progress since you have been home?

It was an adjustment but it was and is good to be home.  My friends are able to come and visit more easily.  When I first came home I had home therapy which really was nothing like when I was at Kessler.  It was mainly stretching and exercises to keep my muscles moving a bit.  I recently started Outpatient therapy and it is intense but I love it.

I have been out in the village which was fun. I was able to hang out with my friends and I got to see so many people who I haven’t seen since before my accident.  I have gone to the park, and attended a few of Columbia’s home football games including the Homecoming game. It is really nice to see people who have supported me through this. I also went to a Rutger Football game and hung out with Eric LeGrand.

What are the main challenges you are facing right now, and what are some things you think could make it a little smoother? 

Well, I am pretty much stuck on the first floor of my house.  My bedroom is now where our living room was.  My dad had my new room painted in the Dallas Cowboys colors by my uncle, cousin, and friends.  We are adding a small addition to the house so I can have a bathroom on the first floor that will be wheelchair accessible.  

Some things that I used to do without thinking about now take a lot of effort and maneuvering, like opening the refrigerator.  I can open it but I need help getting what I want.  Changing the channel on the TV, normally we do without thinking about it. We synced my iPad that the Maplewood Lacrosse Club gave me, up to my TV and I can now control my TV.  

One thing I miss the most is being able to play xBox.  A friend of my mother’s who is an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology specialist is working on adapting a paddle so I can try to play it again.  

One of the hardest things right now is not being able to go many places.  One thing we hope to be able to get is a wheelchair accessible van. Then I’ll be able to do a lot more things and get out more.

How did you and your family make it through the hurricane, did you lose power?

Our family made it through it.  My dad was gone for 2 days straight then worked from early morning till like 8 everyday since the storm and then 2 days straight with the snow and trees.  The night of the storm, half of the tree in our front yard came crashing down and took out all the wires to the house.  It was crazy.  

We lost power and it was out for seven days. The hardest thing was making sure my wheelchair and lift was charged everyday.  And I was not able to go out because there were trees, branches and wires blocking the streets and sidewalks.

What do you think about the event that is taking place on Saturday?  

The Tricky Tray on Saturday will be a lot of fun.  I will be there. It is amazing that so many people in the community have offered their support and help.  I appreciate all the support and encouragement from the community.  It’s nice to know so many people care and want to help me and my family.     

Your dad said that you are a very strong-willed person with a lot of determination. How has that helped you to navigate this situation, and what are your goals for the future?  

I try to keep positive and know that I will walk again. This makes me work harder and when I have the slightest bit of improvement that just makes me work even harder to improve more.  I plan on working hard so I can walk again.  

I hope to inspire others to never give up because with hard work and determination you can achieve whatever you set out to do.  I just started to get control over my big toe on my left foot.


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