Employee of the Month:
How a fulfilling career and new confidence
enabled triumph over brain and spinal cord injuries
Walter Crary, 58, was a New Jersey transplant enjoying life in the Florida sun. Having grown up in Trenton, N.J., where his father passed down his welding trade to his son, Crary was thrilled to settle in the Sunshine State as an adult, where he enjoyed working as a welder and car yard owner and handyman. But as much as he enjoyed his day jobs, Crary’s true passion was cruising Florida’s open roads on his motorcycle. His bike was his primary mode of transportation for years and the absence of any helmet or protective gear laws in Florida further enabled Crary’s carefree lifestyle.
Until April 2005. Everything changed for Crary when, on a routine commute home from work, he lost control of his motorcycle over a patch of sandy railroad tracks. He sustained C3 and C4 spinal cord injuries and a mild head injury and was rendered a complete quadriplegic for well over two months.
“When people say your life can change in an instant, believe them,” says Crary, “I’m living proof!”
After his accident and lengthy hospital and rehabilitation facility stays in Florida – he is now considered an incomplete quadriplegic – Crary moved back to New Jersey in search of more robust and accessible services. In July 2013, physically weary from his geographic move and emotionally drained after nearly eight years of adjusting to life in his power wheelchair, everything changed for Crary once more when he was referred to Bancroft NeuroRehab in Cherry Hill. This time, things changed for the better.
Lois Forman, Director of Outpatient Vocational Services, admits Crary gave her pause at their first meeting. “Walter wanted to get back into the workforce – he had the skill and the determination, but he was angry,” Forman remembers. “And, he still had his biker appearance complete with long hair and beard and an intimidating personality to match.”
Forman knew Bancroft NeuroRehab was the right place for Crary, but reentering the workforce would take time. She immediately got to work connecting Crary with a host of organizations and services for which she knew he’d be eligible. Very quickly, with help from the TBI Fund, the N.J. Division of Rehabilitation, Jewish Family Services and other partners, Crary was outfitted with a new wheelchair, dental work, new eyeglasses and even a haircut and shortly thereafter, a brand new attitude and outlook.
“I saw an evolution before my eyes,” says Forman. “With Walt’s determination and willingness to accept help, he completely blossomed. I watched and swelled with pride as he reclaimed his self-confidence, and truly sharpened his skill set.”
A New Career
Fast forward to 2016, and after months of volunteer work with the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Pennsauken, N.J., Crary is poised to celebrate his first anniversary of paid employment at Home Depot in West Berlin, where he consistently wins accolades from colleagues and customers. His breadth and depth of knowledge about tools and home repairs – thanks to his livelihood before his accident – coupled with his dedication to his work makes Crary a shoo-in for frequent Homer Awards and Employee of the Month honors.
When he’s not at work, Crary is spending time with his fiancée Tina at their home in Williamstown – another positive outcome of discovering Bancroft NeuroRehab. Crary credits his confidence and new financial independence with reconnecting with his sweetheart from many years ago, and suspects she may be the reason he survived his accident.
“If I never met Lois, I don’t know where I’d be. She saved me,” Crary says. “The Lord kept me here for a reason – and maybe that was to meet Lois and ultimately reconnect with my fiancée, Tina.”
These days, Crary enjoys a full schedule of work and quality time with loved ones. He successfully completed his physical and occupational therapies at Bancroft NeuroRehab but keeps in touch with Forman and her team as he advances in his career.
“My life is so fulfilling now, and even though I’m done my acute services with Lois, I know I’ll always have a friend,” he says.
“I’m a living example to people in similar situations that as long as you’re alive, you can strive for – and ultimately achieve – a better life after injury.”
At Bancroft NeuroRehab, an interdisciplinary team of experts assesses and treats each patient’s unique needs. From mild concussions and memory impairments to traumatic brain injuries, dedicated, compassionate clinicians aim to help individuals rebound, recover and reconnect after illness or injury.