Jerry Cronin didn’t know what was happening. He thought back pain from a previously herniated disc was flaring up again. Then the pain changed. It became sharp, and Jerry thought he had kidney stones. Walking became difficult but he persevered, and it was only a freak accident that brought Jerry to the ER where he was put through a battery of tests. Months later, Jerry learned he had late-stage, undiagnosed Lyme disease. Over the course of several years the disease progressed to the extent that Jerry is now only able to walk with the assistance of an exoskeleton and SideStix.
Jerry doesn’t discount tough experiences in life. He sees them as blessings – things that strengthen his faith, and his belief in his community. “My wife and I have experienced so much together,” he says. “These tough times are making my children better. Our community has helped us every step of the way.” He also understands that it often gets harder before it gets better. He has navigated a never-ending minefield of pain for years, and knows how to dig deep down to find a silver lining. “Every day is a blessing,” Jerry says – and this helps him move forward. Jerry feels that “life is precious, but it can also be remarkably difficult at times. There’s beauty, simplicity, and wonder in everyday life: God-given graces.” As Jerry counts his blessings, he believes things will get better; and they do.
Returning to work that meant everything to Jerry. “Work is important to me,” he says, “and it was tremendously difficult to be out of work for a while.” When he finally returned to his role as family provider, it was the work he valued. One of the sweetest sounds Jerry heard when returning from his job was his daughter “crying out in excitement, saying ‘Daddy, you’re home!’ It felt so good to be home.” And Jerry was home – both physically and emotionally.
Whether it’s your faith in God or something else, no explanation is necessary for gratitude and a belief that things will get better. As we all navigate our new lives through this pandemic, staying healthy and grateful requires a leap of faith. Jerry is a testament to that fact, and his story provides a spiritual boost to one’s immune system. Indeed, an aspirational lesson to all of us in lockdown.
What is your definition of ‘defy convention’?
‘Defy Convention’ is a good nickname for me! (laughs)
It’s being outside the norm. Outside of a box that is outside of the box; not engaging in the ordinary, and being tougher than you have to.
Can you tell us about your health journey?
It’s a long story! I was a business owner, and had some back pain that I thought was normal. When I was in high school, I’d had a herniated disk, so I had pain once a year or so. It started getting worse, and the doctors told me I was fine, and to put a piece of plywood under my bed. I thought, “if that’s all you’re going to tell me, I’m never going to the doctor’s again!” A few months went by, and I started getting different symptoms. I was around the same age my dad was when he got kidney stones, so I was sure I had kidney stones. I started having trouble walking around, but I blew it off because I had to work. I was a young father and a husband, so it wasn’t really a concern.
Then, I had a 55-gallon drum fall on me. I was in a lot of pain – so much that it was almost euphoric. I went to Emergency, and the doctors showed us the MRI and said they couldn’t do surgery on me right away. I needed anti-inflammatories to bring the swelling down because there were fragments caught in my spinal cord; they said I could be paralyzed for life.
Before my surgery, they found bladder issues, because of the nerve damage, so I lost a lot of feeling and strength in my legs. A few months later, other things started to pop up. There’s no manual for spinal cord injury, so I thought it was just normal. But we found out that my body had actually started shutting down in different ways. I had all of these infections and systemic reactions that caused my body to reject medications and antibiotics. It turns out I had a late-stage, undiagnosed Lyme disease that had been brewing in there for a while and doing some damage. When you have something like a spinal cord injury, opportunistic things like this take over. I was rejecting all kinds of antibiotics and I had infections… I almost lost my arm. I had surgery on my jaw, both of my elbows… the doctors were scared to use something in case something else happened! I had a pharmacogenomics test, and it tells you how you metabolize medications. We figured out how to treat me, and I got a PICC line to my heart for about 8 months.
Once I started doing a little better, I found out I was a candidate for robotic leg braces. They were amazing, but expensive – almost $200,000. I was a trial candidate for the next version, which works phenomenally. It’s basically a microprocessor-controlled knee to walk around on. I can initiate movement from my hip flexors.
Did you have to learn how to be active again?
I was in really bad shape before I got the C-brace. When you’re someone of my size – 6’4” and 250 pounds – you have a lot of weight pushing down, so it’s tough.
One of the therapists at MossRehab suggested I get them. I was actually getting fitted for a power chair at the time. I was told I was the perfect candidate for what’s called the ReWalk, but then the rep came in and said I was too tall!
My story actually goes on a bit here. Once I started to get better, I still had a lot of nerve damage, and got this thing called trigeminal neuralgia. It’s one of the worst pain conditions known to man. It used to be called ‘the suicide disease’. It really started to interfere with my life, and I could tell when episodes were coming on. They could last a couple minutes, or a couple weeks, or sometimes a couple months. There were a few months in the summer that got pretty bad.
After I started getting better, and had surgery again, I wasn’t allowed to exercise or get my heart rate up, in case I had an attack. I couldn’t do anything for months! And then all of a sudden, my doctor told me to go for it – that was all I needed to hear! I was so excited!
I got on a strict keto diet, which I’m still on, and lost a ton of weight – about 60 pounds.
How did you find SideStix?
I tried a lot of different crutches. I can’t tell you the amount of difficulty I’ve had with them. I was getting infections really easily, so I needed something that was going to stay clean. A lot of the spring-loaded crutches I tried were too heavy. Then I found a pair that was light enough, and, I kid you not, I would go through at least two pairs a month! They were about $160 per pair, and it would be like “okay, that one’s done now”. I’d be stuck in the backyard trying to garden with my son! They obviously weren’t working, and it was very tough. I can’t tell you how many injuries I sustained from falling, and in public too – really embarrassing stuff – just because a crutch broke.
I kept trying stuff, and saw a picture of SideStix on Tadpole. I was interested, but I just couldn’t afford them at the time, and didn’t know insurance would cover it. They told us they would only pay for one pair of crutches a year. But I said “we’re going to figure it out”. We didn’t put another pair through insurance, and went for SideStix, and they’ve been amazing.
The most I’d ever gotten out of a pair of crutches before was three months, but I’ve had these for over a year. They’re worth every penny. These are the best crutches in the world – they really are.
What’s your favourite thing about your SideStix?
I don’t have the function of my lower legs at all, so moving is a really big challenge. I depend on my crutches more than I do on my legs, because they’re my movers. SideStix are so durable.
I also love the carbon fibre. My legs are carbon fibre, so they match! It’s pretty cool. They honestly look like they go together!
What are your passions in life?
My family: my children and my wife. I’m a faithful guy, so I know I’m pretty blessed. I know things could be a lot worse, but I’m a happy guy. Being grateful is one of my passions.
I love playing with my kids – whatever they’re doing. My son and I play a lot of baseball. He’ll ask me every night to play catch.
My wife and I always go fishing, on every vacation we take, so fishing is definitely a passion of mine, and my son just takes that right on. We love fishing. Last summer, we went to Vermont and he caught the largest brown trout ever caught in Lake Champlain! It’s in the record books! There’s a newspaper article about it, which is pretty cool.
When do you feel most powerful?
My daughter’s five years old. One day, I came home from work, and she ran into my arms and said “Daddy, you’re home!” Before my leg braces, I’d never picked my daughter up! It’s things like that. These little accomplishments were given to me,and they’re little things, but I’m going to carry them the rest of my life. They’re things my wife and I have experienced together – we have a lot of powerful little moments.
What would your perfect day look like?
I’d definitely wake up to a good view, and have breakfast with my family and watch the sunrise on the front porch. Then we’d go out on the lake and go fishing, then have a nice barbeque. We’d enjoy whatever my family wanted to do, and make sure each one of us had something special that we enjoyed doing.
How do you stay motivated?
I believe that you have to pay attention to something. I don’t care what you believe in, but I mean, there’s just too much going on, so I had to pay attention. If I didn’t have any faith, I wouldn’t be smiling right now. My wife and I had a lot of encouragement, and our church has really taken care of us. I’ve never heard of a family like this, ever. We can’t wait to give back.
We live in a very modest house right now, because we needed to rent a one-story home. But now that I’m back to work, we see ourselves giving back. We knew the whole time that we were being set up to help others, so I really take that as a motivation. We’ve helped a lot of people along the way with our church groups. It’s a God-given blessing. My children even see it, and it’s making them better people. My daughter understands to some degree; my son definitely does. There are so many things that remind me how blessed I am.