Bullis School 2003 graduate Josh Basile returned to his alma mater on Monday, June 4 to speak at the school’s morning assembly and tell his story to his alma mater.
In the summer of 2004 Basile suffered a serious spinal cord injury between his fourth and fifth vertebrae while bodysurfing at Bethany Beach, Del. after his freshman year at Skidmore College. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Since then, however, Basile’s condition has improved. He now has a wide range of motion in his arms, and through intensive physical therapy he becomes physically stronger every day. He has also become founded a nonprofit and become a public speaker, aiming to be a leader and inspiration both to Bullis students and to the community at large.
In his speech at Bullis, Basile discussed the progress he has made with his injury, including using a manual wheelchair instead of an electric wheelchair.
“It gives me the freedom to get anywhere. Before the automatic wheelchair was too heavy to get up steps being 350 pounds. This new one is less than 30 pounds and so gives me greater access to the world,” said Basile.
Basile also discussed his experience of going back to the beach and realizing the need to raise awareness on beach safety after hearing about other spinal cord injuries that occurred at Dewey Beach in that past year.
As a part of promoting awareness and helping others in similar situations, Basile has created a new foundation and Web site called Determined2heal.org, which gives information to families of newly-injured spinal cord patients. It also promotes beach safety information and provides funding for paralysis -related research and rehabilitative organizations. This Web site now has 130 pages of information as well as videos of all of rehabilitative exercise programs for spinal cord patients.
“We like to think of the Web site as a one-stop-shop for those who deal with paralysis. That’s our goal; it’s a never ending project,” said Basile.
LAST SUMMER, Basile led a staff of 12 interns and five employees to help him overhaul the Determined2heal Web site. At Bullis on Monday, Basile handed out internship applications for this summer after his speech.
“I need the creativity of my interns, they are my hands. Without them it is really tough to do on my own. Their support is just key,” said Basile.
Many of these interns are current Bullis students, such as graduating Bullis senior Sarah O’Neil, from Potomac, who worked for Basile last summer. “Josh doesn’t just care about himself, but wants to help everyone else. He taught us so much last year,” O’Neil said.
Another Bullis senior Megan Herbets said, “Working for Josh has given me a lot of experience with public relations that will be good for college. I also learned so much more about spinal cord injuries.”
Basile spent last summer working with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who supports the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, a bipartisan bill focused on opening up additional lines for human embryonic stem cell research. Basile has worked in his own foundation as well as other organizations, such as the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, to get more support for the bill.
“I have been trying to meet with as many senators and congressmen as possible to get them to understand how their vote will change this country in a different direction,” Basile said. In the past month, he has talked with at least 12 different senators and congressmen who are undecided about the stem cell bill.
SEVERAL MONTHS AGO Basile visited a vocational facility in Pennsylvania for a week with his personal caregiver, Neil Manalo. This 12-acre facility was run by and for students with disabilities.
“Every single day I hung out with kids with disabilities. I’m not used to that, it was a lot of fun,” said Basile.
There he learned how to drive using a type of assisted joystick that enables him to stop and start with his hands. He has spent 40 hours behind the wheel, first in a parking lot, then using residential and city roads.
“This is my next big step to independence to allow me to live my twenties how I want to,” said Basile. “Instead of having my caregiver get me there and pick me up I would have the ability to go somewhere on my own.”
In addition to learning how to drive, Basile started a new sport — bowling — using a special weighted ball.
This past semester Basile took classes at Montgomery College and the University of Maryland, and he plans to attend the University of Maryland communications school next semester.
“I want to continue pursuing what makes me happy,” said Basile. “Right now the foundation and making changes in the world are really where I feel my time is best spent. A lot needs to be done and a lot of people need to be helped. Money is not my driving force; success is how I make a difference in this world.”