Charles Tumulak, 46, an avid runner and CrossFit participant, ran an obstacle course in Florence, S.C., on March 23, with his brother Michael and seven other “Mud Freak” teammates.
The run has obstacles throughout, similar to a Warrior Dash or Spartan Run, and Tumulak got caught in a cargo net. He had one foot in the net when he tried to descend, slipped, flipped upside down and fell 15 feet, landing on his head and neck.
Tumulak broke his neck and suffered the same types of spinal-cord injuries as the late actor Christopher Reeve, according to his sister, Leilani Townsend of Marietta.
Tumulak remains in the Intensive Care Unit at McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, S.C., on a feeding tube and ventilator. He’s unable to control his limbs or speak, but sustained no brain injuries. Doctors told the family to be prepared for Tumulak never to walk or speak again, and for him to be paralyzed from the shoulders down.
“The goal is to get him stable enough to transport him to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, designed for spinal cord injuries like his,” Townsend said.
At Shepherd, Tumulak will have a team of 10 to 12 doctors, surgeons, nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists. Then he’ll need two 24-hour caregivers — one of whom will need to be a nurse — for the rest of his life.
Tumulak lives in a rental unit with a roommate, but the family has canceled those arrangements to prepare a new home for him.
“We’re looking at transforming the two-car garage at our parents’ house in Gwinnett into a place just for him that’s completely wheelchair-accessible,” Townsend said. “He’ll need a wheelchair that’s higher and wider than normal wheelchairs, and that can lock in place.”
The swelling may go down in his neck, but it could take a year, Townsend said. The family has prepared themselves for Tumulak to be permanently on a ventilator.
“This was not his first obstacle course,” Townsend said. “He and our brother Michael have done quite a few around the nation. They were signed up to do the run in Atlanta June 1.”
Tumulak also encouraged running for his nephew, 12-year-old Nicholas Townsend.
Nicholas is a member of the Walton Youth Track Club, and Tumulak attended all the meets, his sister said.
Running is a family activity, and Tumulak spent a good bit of time running with his nephew. The activity has bonded the two, and Nicholas has spent part of his spring break at the hospital with his uncle praying over him and talking to him.
“Charles has full brain activity,” Townsend said. “He understands when we talk to him, but he can’t respond, so we have to read lips and use a white board with the alphabet on it when we can’t understand his lips so that he can help us spell out his words.”
Hearing about his condition has been difficult for Nicholas, so he wants to be near to see for himself that Tumulak is OK.
Locals in Florence, S.C., and Marietta have helped the family, bringing them meals and arranging hotel stays, Townsend said.
“In light of a tragedy, you don’t think about how you’re going to eat or where you’ll shower or sleep,” Townsend said.
But the group is eager to get back to Georgia and begin the therapy and remodeling processes. Tumulak, an employee at Pain Solutions Treatment Center in Marietta, won’t be able to work without the use of his limbs, Townsend said. But therapy may help him learn to use devices to control a computer.
“Even though he can’t talk, we can tell his mental state is day-by-day,” Townsend said. “He keeps indicating that he’s ready to go home.”
Tumulak won’t be able to go home until he is recovered from pneumonia and doctors insert a permanent pacemaker, Townsend said.
The family has set up a website, www.gofundme.com\chuckstorm, and a Facebook page “Fight For A Warrior” to share daily updates about Tumulak. They’ve also listed some ways the community can help.
“We’re looking at astronomical medical costs for 24-hour care,” Townsend said. “It’s going to be $5,500 per month.”
Townsend said they’re looking for support in the way of monetary donations, modifying the garage, contracting, carpentry, plumbing, electricity, medical hospital bed donations, wheelchair donations or a vehicle with a wheelchair lift and lock.