FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Looking deep into each others eyes, dancing like nobody was watching, 26-year-olds Joel and Lauren Jackson shared something they've been dreaming of since their wedding day two years ago. "I always wanted a real first dance," said Lauren. "It was unexpected, a signature moment to never be forgotten," said Joel.
It's a day the Jackson's were not sure would every come. These two have a unique love story. "We met when we were 14 at a church event. He walked in the door with his shaggy hair," said Lauren, still blushing as she recalls meeting her first love. They both say it was love at first site. "We dated for about 3 months," said Lauren. But both were too young. "Right person, wrong timing."
Fast-forward to age 20, Joel and six others got in a sports car with a drunk driver who lost control, slammed into a pole. Joel and a 15-year-old girl were ejected from the car. The girl died, Joel was critically injured, the other five people in the car walked away from the wreck with bumps and bruises. Joel spent 87 days in the hospital. Word of the horrific wreck got to Lauren. "I just fell apart," said Lauren.
The accident left Joel a quadriplegic. As Joel adjusted to his new way of life, he and Lauren re-kindled their friendship and they fell in love. "She accepted me at my worst and came back to me today. That isn't what most people would do. She means literally more than anything in the world to me," Joel told FOX 35.
Their love is anything but typical. Joel cannot speak. He is only able talk through a special computer. He focuses his eyes on a letters on the screen and blinks to spell out words and sentences. The couple just recently moved to Florida from their home state of South Carolina. For the first time since the accident Joel is now getting intense physical therapy at The Brooks Rehabilitation Neuro Recovery Center in Jacksonville. Joel's C1 spinal cord injury is rare, so he's agreed to be a case study. "Each spinal cord injury is different than the next," said Lauren.
Lauren stays with Joel during his physical therapy, watching from a distance. She recalls that special day earlier this month. "I looked down texted my sister look up and he's standing… and looked up like 'Whoa, this is what we're doing today,'" said Lauren. Joel's physical therapist used a special hoist to get Joel out of his wheel chair and into a standing position. As Lauren processed what she was seeing, she recalled hearing their wedding song while watching Joel's therapy the previous week, she decided to seize the moment.
"I said somebody has that song, play that song for me," said Lauren. "It was like we were the only two there, you know it just completely blew my mind," Lauren said of her 1st real dance with her husband.
It more than a touching moment, it was a break through. Standing didn't elevate Joel's blood pressure. That discovery is now encouraging both him and his therapists to try more. "I don't know how far I'll get, but I'll never give up," Joel told FOX 35.
Recently Joel rediscovered painting, using his mouth to hold the paint brush, "I enjoyed it," said Joel. He now sells his artwork on Etsy to help save money so he and Lauren can buy a home some day. With each new stroke and every new step, Joel is determined to continue to defy the expectations doctors had when they first sent him home after his accident. "I want to get completely healed, maintain a successful life, family and keep our love as strong as the first time we met," Joel said.
The couple has agreed that when Joel is able to speak again, they will re-new their vows.
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