Giving Back:
Anthony & Micki Purcell
by William J. Gallo

Imagination is a gift we all receive at birth and we cultivate throughout our lives. For most of us when we use our imagination it is for envisioning good things, wonderful things, multicolor images that take us to places that invoke good feelings. This was the case for Micki Purcell on February 6, 2010.She was driving on the highway in California, and like most of us letting that voice inside our heads imagine good things. On this day Micki’s voice ceased when her cell phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line was a person advising her that her son had just sustained a spinal cord injury. Instantly, her world was turned upside down, the pleasant thoughts ran to fear, anger, sadness and disorientation. On that day her son Anthony Purcell was off with friends to the Super Bowl and a stay at the Shore Club in Miami Beach. After the game and back at the hotel he decided to go for a swim. This was familiar territory for Anthony as he and his friends had done this numerous times in the past. This day would be different. Anthony dove into the waves, hit a hidden submerged sandbar and sustained injury to his C5 and C6 vertebrae, breaking his neck. Many of us in the South Florida Tri-County area are familiar with Anthony’s story and if you aren’t I suggest you just do a Google search on, “Walking with Anthony” or just “Anthony or Micki Purcell”.  You will discover a plethora of information. The key to these wonderful people is their ability to turn imagination into action. Action that has resonated far beyond the South Florida Tri-Counties. Their action is called Giving Back.

Micki would soon get a crash course in the medical community’s ability or better yet, inability, to respond to spinal cord injuries. Medical care is available, although this particular injury is low on the priority list for research relative to cancer, heart disease and dementia. Additionally, this particular population is typically affected mentally by depression, despair and hopelessness. These emotional responses come at a time when one’s mental condition is paramount to their ability to achieve success from the physical therapy necessary to begin rehabilitation. Finally, there is the lack luster performance of the insurance industry as relates to financial reimbursement and covered expenses. In the days that followed his accident, Anthony would plunge headlong into despair and hopelessness after learning that he was now paralyzed from the waist down. In fact, his first 20 days were spent in intense initial rehabilitation and medical care. Unfortunately, on day 21 the insurance reimbursements stopped and as Micki says, “we were practically thrown to the curb to figure out our future and navigate a course for Anthony to recover.”

Now reader, it is time for you to use your imagination.  What is it like to find yourself paralyzed from the waist down, unable to raise your arms or feed yourself, having just had your future dreams ripped from your mind, sitting in a wheel chair at a curb with your mother wondering what is next. Or think about what you would do if you were Micki. Would you fall into total disfunction, blame the world for your misfortune or even worse evolve a dependence on alcohol or drugs. Well not Micki nor Anthony. They chose to turn their energy, focus and resources to create a vehicle to support a community that needed an advocate, but first they had to address the initial rehab. The next 10 months were comprised of this small family unit finding alternatives and spending most of the family’s resources in so doing. By the fall of 2010 they swung into action. Micki, because she discovered she could use her imagination and become a force to triumph over tragedy, and Anthony because he needed a place to focus his mental health as well as physical health. Together in November of 2010, they decided to form a not-for-profit organization to assist those victims of spinal cord injury, without the support of a system. They also invoked the help and assistance of Anthony’s sister Jennifer and her husband Matt both residents of Lighthouse Point, Florida. he concept was to aggregate this small injured community, help them navigate the system by offering alternatives to chart a path to recovery and offer financial assistance. These two individuals are a prime example of imagination turned to action in the best interest of community over self. In my world it is called Giving Back.

Now that we know the back story of this wonderful and community-minded family, the real value is measured by the impact it has had on our community and the nation as a whole Although proven therapies and solutions for individuals with spinal cord injuries exist, they are unavailable to the average person, especially people who have very likely lost what they previously knew to be their livelihoods. It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to get just one individual out of a wheel chair. This astronomical cost is what prohibits many people from the reality of walking again. To resolve this problem, Walking with Anthony created a Rehab Grant Program designed to address the specific needs of each recipient. Since inception, their programs have impacted the lives of over 200 individuals through a multifaceted approach which encompasses rehabilitation, provision of essential equipment, mentorship initiatives, and community support. Additionally, they have evolved programs to assist and contribute to the expansion of numerous rehabilitation centers. Walking With Anthony today represents a steadfast source of guidance and assistance to families affected by spinal cord injuries.

The formula for success derived by Micki and Anthony started with imagination leading to action ultimately promoting community success. However, all the imagination a person can muster could never have envision-ed the outcome of this tragic event of 14 years ago. Not just the outcome of a community focused not-for-profit enhancing the lives of an essentially forgotten population, nor the numbers of people’s lives saved by their giving back, but the reality of Anthony today. Those shattered life dreams are no longer. In 2017 Anthony found the drive to push forward and overcome the challenge of having his own family one day. He mustered the strength to contact a former Cardinal Gibbons High School classmate that he always had a crush on and the rest of the story is pure Camelot. In 2017 they rekindled the old Gibbons attraction and were married. Seeking to overcome the impossible, having a family, they sought out the help of Dr. Jesse Mills of UCLA Health’s Male Reproductive Medicine Department. Through creative invitro fertilization both Karen and Anthony were able to overcome the impossible and make their dream come true. In 2023 they welcomed their first child, Payton.

Micki and Anthony are a So Flo story that should make each and every one of us proud of the fact that our community continues to produce residents that influence our society positively through their imagination and action and the concept of Giving Back. I would be remiss if I did not end with an appeal to our readers to reach out and support this organization.