Cochran's courage

Justin Cochran and family work to turn tragedy to way to help

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By Suzy Smith
Blount Today

Life has its ups and downs. People say you can measure a man by the way he not only handles the ups but also the downs.
If that is the case, then Justin Cochran measures about 10-feet tall.

"Things can change in the blink of an eye," said Bruce McKinnon, family friend of the Cochrans.

As a tradition, every two years, the Cochrans gather for a family reunion at Barren River Lake State Park in Kentucky during the Thanksgiving holidays. It is custom for several family members to play a round of golf on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Those who do not play golf usually tag along in a caravan of golf carts.

That was the case on that fateful day in 2004 when 22-year-old Justin Cochran was messing around with his cousins. They learned that Justin could do a back handspring, and they wanted a demonstration. Misjudging the landing, Justin fell on his head and instantly broke his C-1 and C-2 vertebrae. He was immediately paralyzed and unable to breathe.

Family members performed rescue breathing for Justin while waiting 40 minutes for an ambulance. The ambulance transported him, and he was airlifted to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. He was put in a halo and remained at the trauma intensive care unit on life support for 12 days.

Justin Cochran’s ability to survive the tragedy is a testament to his courage. Doctors told the family that 99 percent of people with spinal cord injuries like Justin Cochran’s usually do not survive the accident.

After his stint at Vanderbilt Hospital, Justin was accepted to the Shepherd Center in northern Atlanta, a not-for-profit hospital that was founded 22 years ago and specializes in treating and rehabilitating patients with spinal cord injuries. Justin remained at the Shepherd Center until May 2005. He now lives in an apartment close to the facility so he can continue his physical therapy.

During his stay at the Shepherd Center, Justin’s father, Mike Cochran, and his uncle, Danny Cochran, thought of starting a charitable foundation for families who are in similar situations. The Justin Cochran Spinal Cord Injury Foundation was created.

"Justin has huge family support system," Mike Cochran said. "We’re a very close- knit family who takes care of one another."
Mike Cochran explained through Justin’s experience, he has met many families who do not have the means to pay the medical bills that come with hospitalization and rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury.

"We want to provide housing and support for people who want to get back into the community," Mike Cochran said. He said the long-term goal for the foundation is to build a place in Knoxville that can be a transitional home where people who have suffered spinal cord injuries can receive rehabilitation services and learn to adapt to their situation.

Justin Cochran has adapted his goals to his new lifestyle. Prior to the accident, Justin was working towards earning his pilot’s license. Now, he attends college and is majoring in aeronautic engineering. He gets around in a wheelchair which he drives using the "sip and puff" method of controlling the chair. He has taken the technology from his wheelchair and applied it to his computer.

"He has a drive to continue with his life," Mike Cochran said. "He doesn’t want to be held back because of his injury."
Justin Cochran has become a voice for those with spinal cord injuries. He has spoken to the Georgia legislature on improving funding efforts for spinal cord injury patients.

The Justin Cochran Spinal Cord Injury Foundation is also doing all it can to help those with spinal cord injuries, Mike Cochran said. He said last year the foundation helped a man by having a ramp built for his residence. The man lived in a trailer on a hill. Without a ramp, the man could not leave his home unless someone carried him out. Now his home is accessible thanks to the foundation.

"This organization wants to help more and more people, to give them hope," said McKinnon. When McKinnon is not acting in television series, movies or in New York theater, he lends his support as a board member of the JCSCI foundation.
To raise funds the Justin Cochran Spinal Cord Injury Foundation is holding the 3rd Annual JCSCI Foundation Golf Tournament at Egwani Farms Golf Course in Rockford. The tournament is Tuesday, May 15, with registration at 11 a.m., lunch at noon and a shotgun start at 1 p.m. The event features good food, giveaways, door prizes, a longest drive contest and a $1,000,000 shootout. Each player closest to the pin on each Par 3 hole has a chance to win $1,000,000 if they sink a 165 yard shot on the Par 5 18th hole at the conclusion of the tournament.

The first place team wins $600, and the second place team wins $300. Other prizes for a hole-in-one on other Par 3 holes include a Dell computer, a trip to Hawaii, Ben Hogan clubs or a Bose Waves music system.

Registration forms for the golf tournament can be downloaded from the foundation’s web site, www.jcscifoundation.org. For more information, call Dan Cochran at 615-210-2961, Dusty McQueen at 865-804-0658 or Bruce McCinnon at 865-806-3740.

Check or money orders can be made payable to the Justin Cochran Spinal Cord Injury Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 32654, Knoxville, TN 37930.

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