EDGAR RICO obtained his Associate’s Degree in Sociology from Citrus College, went on to get his B.A. in Sociology from California State University, Los Angeles, and then earned his Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. In his free time he enjoys going to healthcare centers to speak to injured patients, with hopes of enabling them to feel better and enjoy their lives.
Such achievements are difficult enough when one has a support system and the ability to move about life as one may please. Which is why it’s almost incredible to believe the fact that Edgar has done it all while being paralyzed from the neck down and while coping with the loss of his mother. This is his story…
The night that changed it all
It was a beautiful Friday in Los Angeles and Edgar was feeling happy, he had just gotten a new job at CarMax and was supposed to start working the following Monday. He went to go pick up his last paycheck from Nissan, his former employer, and then decided to go out to celebrate and drink with some guys that night. On their way back home, the driver, who had been drinking, lost control of the vehicle, hitting a cement light pole and crashing into a fence.
Edgar woke up in a hospital bed unaware of his condition, thankful to be alive. He knew he had been badly injured, but was not prepared for the doctor to walk in and inform him that he had broken his neck and injured his spinal cord at the C5-C6 levels, meaning he would be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life. Edgar was only 24 years old.
Edgar was devastated. He knew his dream of becoming a mechanic and owning his own auto-shop was shattered forever. His new life would now consist of being confined to a bed and needing assistance for the simplest tasks we take for granted like breathing, drinking water, and eating. Edgar wore a halo brace for three months and had to learn everything again, he recalls being in constant pain, passing out easily, and sometimes even choking on water.
Accepting a new way of life
“I never received good news from the doctor, every time I went in for a check-up there was always something new to deal with.”
The first year after the accident was the toughest for Edgar, he got diagnosed with pneumonia, had persistent fevers, and could hardly withstand all the pain. Besides his mother’s love and care, Edgar had very little to hang on to, yet he never lost hope.
“I would tell myself, I’m still alive, so that means I can get through this. I’m not going to lose hope.”
Edgar started going to physical therapy and slowly began to accept his new life. He had a cousin in Mexico who became paralyzed after a childhood accident and she had been able to adapt to her life with paralysis, so Edgar used her as an example to remind himself that life wasn’t completely over for him. After one year of vigorous therapy and with the tremendous assistance of his mother, Edgar recuperated slight movement in his arms.
Finding Purpose Again
Through his therapy sessions, Edgar met many great students who encouraged him to take some classes at Citrus College. He didn’t think it was a great idea given his condition, but he eventually gave in and signed up for a class. At first, he was afraid of going out because he didn’t want people seeing him in his chair, however, after taking his first class and getting an A, Edgar began to care more about his education and less about what people thought of him.
The first semester at Citrus was difficult for Edgar; he needed his mother to push him around in a manual chair and assist him with his class work. He had classmates who would offer to take notes for him, but Edgar took it upon himself to do as much as he could without assistance of others, instead he used a special writing device so he could take his own notes. He recalls feeling mentally and physically exhausted on most days, but he preferred that over being at home all day feeling sorry for himself.
After taking enough classes at Citrus College, Edgar obtained his Associate’s degree in Sociology. His newfound passion in education was so profound that he then went on to pursue his B.A. in Sociology and a Minor in Chicano Studies at Cal State Los Angeles. Throughout his education, Edgar learned about the struggles of others like himself and those of marginalized groups, this inspired him to pursue a career in which he could enable other people to never lose hope while helping them look for the resources they need. Edgar had found purpose in his life again and was determined to surpass each challenge he encountered.
The Unexpected Loss
Life was just getting better for Edgar when his family received the terrible news that Edgar’s mom, Maria, had Uterine cancer.
Initially they told Maria her cancer was treatable so she underwent chemotherapy and radiation. It became routine for Edgar and his mom to be in and out of hospitals. Maria felt sick often, but she was still there to help Edgar with everything. That was until a routine hospital visit turned into another devastating life event for Edgar. Despite the therapies and the doctor’s efforts, Maria’s cancer had spread aggressively and there was nothing that could be done.
Edgar’s mom passed the summer of 2010.
“Losing my mom was worse than losing all movement in my body. She was my everything, my motivator, my rock. Ever since my accident we had been together all the time, I couldn’t imagine life without her.”
After his beloved mother passed, Edgar lost all motivation; he stopped going to his classes, stopped going out in public, stopped eating well and confined himself to his room. He didn’t want to see anyone and now reflects on the fact that he was indeed depressed, but he did not acknowledge it then so he did not seek the help he needed.
“I lost like 50 pounds after my mom died. I was so skinny and sick that my skin became extremely sensitive, breaking out in rashes and bruises.”
After months of grieving and staying in his room, Edgar decided that he couldn’t live like that the rest of his life. He knew his mom would have wanted him to continue school and to keep having hope in life. In his mother’s memory, Edgar forced himself to get back out and live again. He continued his education and was able to start back just in time to graduate from California State University, Los Angeles the following year.
Joining the Trojan Family
With support of professors and other students, Edgar decided to apply to the University of Southern California (USC) to earn his masters degree in Social Work. Knowing USC was ranked among the top universities in the nation he applied nervously and with many doubts, but having gone through so much in life already Edgar knew he had the grit he needed to get through the journey if he got accepted. Edgar also applied to Cal State LA and was accepted, but when it was time to make his decision, he had yet to hear back from USC, his dream school. He decided to take the risk and lost his spot at Cal State LA, waiting to hear back from USC.
Edgar was not only accepted into USC, but he also received the Swim With Mike Scholarship, covering his education in full. As part of the Trojan family he was involved in multiple speaking engagements and also volunteered at the Swim With Mike events all the meanwhile taking his required courses. Edgar recalls having a great time tailgating and attending the football games, making new friends, and always having events to go to.
Hope and Resilience
Today, Edgar holds three degrees, drives his own van, works out three times a week, and often goes to hospitals like Casa Colina to share his story with newly injured individuals to proof to them that life can go on if they choose to. He is currently looking for a job in the field of social work or in an organization to help disabled individuals. Edgar is even contemplating starting up his own foundation to help individuals with paralysis and other disabilities because he strongly believes there is a great need for more resources and support. “I know many people with disabilities who have turned to drugs or suicide as an easy way out instead of looking for the help and love they need, I want to change that. If I can help save a life through my experience then my purpose will be fulfilled.
At times, Edgar still finds it hard to believe that regardless of his disability, he has been able to accomplish many of his life goals. He knew his paralysis meant life had to be different, but he didn’t want it to mean his life had ended, so he took control and made the best of it. It is his hope, his resilience, and his mother’s memory that always keeps him going. “I really hope that one day some type of medicine or technology will help me walk again, I would also love to buy a home and have my own family.”
Tips from Edgar
- Never lose your hope or faith, as hard as life gets, you just have to keep pushing forward.
- If you have been severely injured or are going through something tragic in life, remember that it’s not over, there are still so many things that you can do.
- Don’t drink and drive and don’t let drunk friends drive. If you do go out, plan ahead.