A Woodbridge, Virginia, teen who was paralyzed after a day playing in the surf is warning other families about the dangers of the beach.
Parker Haller, 17, had been swimming since he was 4 years old, but he returned from his 2012 trip to Ocean City, Maryland, a quadriplegic.
“The ocean floor was really uneven. I was just walking back and forth in the water, jumping over the waves,” Parker recounted.
That July day Parker went to the beach with his mother and little brother. He'd been playing in the water for about an hour when he dove over a wave, head first.
“It was shallower than I thought it was, and I hit a sandbar right away on my head. And in the blink of an eye, could not move, couldn't feel,” Parker said.
He was underwater, fully conscious, being tossed around by the waves. A nearby swimmer saw him go under and pulled him out. Lifeguards went to Parker’s aid, and he was flown to a hospital in Baltimore.
From there, Parker spent four months at Shepherd Center for spinal injuries in Atlanta. He had smashed two vertebrae near the top of his spine. After his first surgery, doctors gave Parker a 4 percent chance of ever having movement below his shoulders again.
“In the first week, I asked my mom, 'When are they going to get me walking again? Are we going to go home soon? Because I'm tired of lying in bed,'” Parker told News4.
With the help of a Lokomat -- a robotic device used in walking therapy by patients whose ability to walk is impaired -- Parker trained his legs to move again.
Parker's injury isn't unique. According to the United States Lifesaving Association, there were 226 major medical injuries at Ocean City beaches the year Parker was hurt. There were 306 the year before and 140 in 2013, most of them in the carefree days of summer.
Parker’s father, Scott Haller, learned a new motto from the staff at the Shepherd Center.
"Diving's OK as long as it's feet first,” he told News4. “So you don't have to stop it totally, but do it feet first."
"You have to know what you're diving into,” said Parker’s mother, Miriam. “If you don't know it's 10 feet of water, don't go into that water."
Parker's parents want to warn other families to be very aware of how fun can turn to tragedy.
"Parker has to relearn how to write, how to eat, how to dress himself, and he's made huge strides,” Miriam said.
About five months ago, Parker reached the major milestone of getting out of his wheelchair and climbing the stairs from his retrofitted basement to the family’s first floor.
“Now I can go upstairs to eat," he said. "We don't have to sit down here when we're having dinner and everybody just sits on the couch."
In physical therapy, his basic goal is to do better than the day before. But Parker also wants to be able to drive and to go off to college on his own. He graduates from Hylton High School in Prince William County next year.
“He is walking across that stage," his mother said. "And I hope that he's either using his crutches or he's using that cane or nothing at all."
Parker's still-growing medical bills are in the neighborhood of half a million dollars, and his friends and extended family have set up a fund to help. If you’d like to help with Parker’s medical expenses, an organizational account is set up to take donations in the Hallers' hometown in Illinois:
Parker Haller Support Fund
Scott Credit Union
712 W. Hwy 50
O’Fallon, IL 62269