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September 28, 2012

Salute to Courage: Chris Niles earns award for his inspiration

NEW CASTLE — A physician wanted to be clear with his patient — he would never walk again. The doctor repeated himself.

Chris Niles heard him the first time and knew he was moving forward regardless of the prognosis. The tree that crushed his spine on March 3, 2011, in the back yard of his Hickory Township home created a detour in his life. It didn’t end it.

Niles’ foundation of strength comes from numerous sources: his wife, Jennifer, and two sons, Christopher and Braden; family, friends and strangers; intense physical therapy; and stem cell treatments.

“Chris’ courage amazes me,” Jennifer said. “He still wakes up and faces every day with smile.”

Initially, he was paralyzed from his shoulder blades down. Today, the improvement has extended along the spinal cord to L1 vertebrae, the area near the large intestines. His feet and hip flexors contract, although he doesn’t control their motions. Then there are the tingling and burning sensations he feels in his lower extremities.

Along the journey, his willpower inspires others.

“He is a rock to many people without even knowing,” Jennifer said. “He makes this life look easy because he wants to prove to the world life can go on.”

Last night, her husband was honored as the New Castle Community YMCA’s Salute to Courage award recipient. A dinner in his honor took place at the Villa Banquet Center. The annual award goes to a Lawrence County resident demonstrating courage in recovering from an accident, injury or illness, in living with a disability or through an act of heroism, according to the Y.

More than 350 people attended.

“Chris got contagious,” his brother-in-law Raymond Omer said. “The fact that he has the injury is part of his motivation.

“This whole thing serves as an inspiration to this county. It’s awakened people that we are our brothers’ keepers.”

Chris’ lifelong friend, Carlo DiNardo, said he didn’t pity himself when the accident occurred.

“From Day One, whether he’s going to walk again or not, Chris is going to be OK. He’s not going to throw in the towel. … He can’t give up.

“He started thinking ahead — ‘Now what am I going to do?’ It wasn’t something that stopped him from life.”

Carlo said his friend’s drive is phenomenal.

“He wants to go to work. He wants to be a productive member of society. He also wants to give back.”

Raymond said assistance has come in layers. His family and friends remained steadfast in their support.

“Immediately after the injury, it was those people who had the most intimate relationship with Chris — people he worked with, people he saw every day.

“Now, we have those added layers of people who see this as a story of inspiration that want to participate in some way in Chris’ story. Their assistance is providing relief to those who were with Chris since that day of his injury.”

Although treatments will continue, Raymond and Carlo said Chris wants to take the attention away from him.

“We’re awestruck by the acts of kindness of the Lawrence County community and beyond,” Raymond said. “We’re ready to take this to the next step.

“Chris said to me, ‘I want to shut this down. I’m ready for my name and my fund to go to start helping other people.’ ”

(E-mail: plitowitz@ncnewsonline.com)

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