News : 2011 : September

Paralyzed rugby player gives $20,000 to Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital

By Jay Weaver

“Woody” Beckham had played football and lacrosse at Gulliver Prep, so the rock-solid youth knew he was tough enough to play rugby when his friends encouraged him to join Florida Atlantic University’s intramural team.

His first game, however, would be his last.

“This 300-pound guy was running with the ball right at my head,” Beckham, 22, said, recalling FAU’s game in late January against the University of Miami on the Coral Gables campus.

“When I tackled him, I knew immediately my neck was broken because I lost all feeling in my body.”

On Monday, he may have been sitting in a wheelchair — paralyzed from the chest down — but the blond, blue-eyed Beckham moved a roomful of relatives, friends and therapists to smiles and tears at the Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital, where he spent a couple of months after his rugby injury.

With his father, Bill, at his side, James “Woody” Beckham celebrated the family’s donation of $20,000 to the rehab hospital — money raised from a summer tournament to reduce the population of Lionfish, an invasive species, in the Bahamas. The donation will go toward new therapeutic equipment to help thousands of patients like Beckham adapt to everyday life.

“Everyone in this room has helped me out in a huge way,” said Beckham, of Coral Gables. “I can’t thank all of you enough.”

Since his spinal cord injury on Jan. 29, Beckham has spent much of his life at Jackson Memorial Hospital, starting with surgery by Dr. Michael Wang. After his operation, he was eventually moved to the rehab hospital, where occupational therapist Janet Dallas and recreational therapist Kelly Messett helped strengthen his fine motor skills so he could balance himself, eat food and take care of personal hygiene.