In Hawaii, “Ala a’e” means to rise. One year ago this fall, Jon Price lost the ability to move any segment of his body from the neck down. Today, he is standing tall.
The former student found his way to Aggieland in 1992, where he would spend five years working in the Student Activities department on campus, pursuing his doctoral degree in education administration in between. As a nontraditional student, Price said he still discovered a love for Texas A&M through the organizations he oversaw and the Aggie bonds he created on a daily basis.
“It was phenomenal,” said Price, Class of 2008. “I was hired into Student Activities where I worked with Fish Aides, Big Event, [Alpha Phi Omega] and Replant. Later on, I transitioned over to working Greek affairs as an adviser to the fraternity system.”
Aggieland’s sense of pride and tradition were as indescribable to Price as they were irresistible. From his earliest moments on campus, Price said he knew he had found a home.
“That's really the scene of that culture, being a part of something bigger than any individual,” Price said. “That’s what I really loved about it. As an employee, I knew I was looking at going to school and I thought, ‘Well, what better place to be an employee and a student.’”
Price said his favorite memories in Aggieland were often formed at home football games with his wife, watching in astonishment as a sea of maroon and white came together as one. Even passing conversations about A&M have stuck with him across two decades.
“I remember that I was in the bookstore once,” Price said. “I saw a little old lady who was looking at all of the decals on the wall, and she was trying to pick out something for her car. I asked her, ‘Were you a student at A&M?’ She said no. I asked, ‘Do you have family at A&M?’ ‘No.’ I asked, ‘So what do you need an A&M sticker for?’ She said, ‘Well, I know that if I have an A&M sticker on my car and I break down, an Aggie will pull over to help me.’”
In 1997, Price left A&M to begin work as an Education Research Scientist with the Intel Corporation. Price worked at Intel for 20 years until last summer, when a call from a friend prompted him to take up work as the director of the career pathways unit in the Kamehameha Schools system in Honolulu, Hawaii.
After two months on the job, Price was enjoying everything Honolulu had to offer. Hiking, biking and scuba diving were daily activities in his new life abroad. However, that all changed when Price and his nephew took to the water for an afternoon of boogie boarding.
“I thought I had caught the perfect wave,” Price said. “But when the wave pulled the board away from me, I didn’t get my hands up in time and the shorebreak caught me. The wave dove me head first right into the sand. I remember just kind of slowly fading to black. I woke up three days later in Queens hospital completely paralyzed.”
Price laid in his hospital bed with what would later be described as a catastrophic vertebral spinal cord injury and severe damage dealt to his vertebral artery. Unable to move or speak, and living off the ventilator running down his throat, Price wondered what would become of him.
“When I came to, things were very dark,” Price said. “My first thoughts were, ‘How do I end this without the ability to even move a muscle?’ I thought, ‘I can’t live like this.’ When my wife came in, I knew the pain I could see in her face, and my daughter came in and I could see the pain in her face. I knew that I couldn't show them the pain that I was going through, and I had to be strong for them. I had to do whatever I could to make things a little lighter for them.”
Hope remained on the horizon, as the initial limitations of eyebrow movements and brief smiles turned to sensations in his right pinky, then his entire hand, shoulder, head and leg.
“I had nurses tell me that with my degree of injury, they didn’t ever think I might get off a ventilator or get out of my motorized chair,” Price said. “Every time I work with my therapist, they are amazed by everything I’ve been able to do.”
Throughout his rehabilitative process, Price clung to family, friends and even the Aggie spirit, which appeared to him when he needed it most.
“Craig Hospital [in Denver] has some liaisons that work with different hospitals around the country,” Price said. “The hospital liaison that came in to visit me, her name is Leigh Ann Metscher, and she’s an Aggie. As we started to talk, we were able to laugh and make a connection, and automatically there was that sense of community again. That Aggie connection there was energizing.”
Even now, with one hand strong and the other on its way to recovery, Price said daily struggles are inevitable. A heavier door requires support from a considerate stranger and the buttons on his shirt do need tending to, but Price said there is no pain in asking for help. It is a gift he will appreciate day after day.
“When you have that many people in your corner and you know they have faith in you, it helps,” Price said. “You work through all those challenges because you know that it’s more than just you alone. It is you being strong for them as well. There’s a sense of family.
“In Hawaiian, that’s ‘ohana,’ and whether that is the family God gave you or the family that you picked, that becomes your motivation.”
A year ago, any hope of simply breathing on his own was lost. Today, Price is back on his feet with the help of a cane. While rehabilitating the left side of his body through the consistent numbness is an ongoing battle, Price said he is light years beyond what anyone thought was possible.
“It’s been difficult,” Price said. “There’s not a direction of someone telling you, ‘Here’s the point on the recovery of where you are, here’s the point where you can be and here’s exactly how you need to move there.’ It’s all unknown, so it’s up to Aggieland and that Fighting Texas Aggie spirit that helps.”