A Portland man was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident on the Santiam River last weekend.
Joe Mills was visiting the Canyon Creek Recreation Area with his family this weekend when he ran down the river bank and attempted to jump over his sister.
"His foot accidentally clipped my sister, causing him to invert, sort of, and implanting his head, in the water, into the sand, which then caused his injury," his younger brother, Tim Mills Arnst said.
"He was laying there face down in the water," said Arnst. "Luckily, not two feet away was my father standing there, who turned him over. And eyes wide open, my brother said, ‘Help me.'"
Arnst and a family friend with paramedic experience removed him from the water and stabilized his neck until paramedics arrived.
"They recognized very quickly he was in trouble and that really, probably saved his life."
Mills remains in the intensive care unit at Salem Hospital. His C5 vertebra was crushed in the accident. He has feeling in his upper arms and shoulders and suffered no neurological damage.
Mills, 37, joined the U.S. Navy after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He served for four years and currently works in information technology in the Portland area.
Family members say he is known for his determination and sense of humor, two traits that are unchanged by the accident.
"He can still make jokes," said Arnst. "Other than that, he wants to make sure the people around him know he loves ‘em. And I guess, not to feel sorry for him. Because he says, ‘I made the decision, you guys didn't make it. Don't feel sorry for me. Just be here for me.'"
"Honestly, he had two words to say. That's ‘safety first,'" said Arnst. "That's all he said, ‘Safety first.'"
While his parents and siblings have kept vigil at the hospital, friends and relatives have kept the family's spirits high and allowed Mills to focus on getting better.
Some have come to the hospital to wait when Mills was in surgery. Others are organizing fundraisers around the country. Friends created a Facebook page to provide updates on his condition, share information about fundraising and share good memories of their time with Mills.
"That's what this is really all about, is gathering the people that he's touched in his life. And it's a rather extensive number of people that he's touched, somehow some way that our family's involved with," said Arnst. "We don't have friends in this family. We have family in this family."
Two car wash fundraisers are planned on Sunday, Aug. 5 at Baxter Auto Parks and Darrel's Economy Mufflers, both on Southeast 82nd in Portland.
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