Man finds motivation in baby's ultrasound photo

Just weeks after learning his girlfriend was pregnant, Marcus Fairfield, 27, was paralyzed in an auto accident

By Sue Thoms
The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — For Marcus Fairfield, motivation is an ultrasound photo.

The black-and-white photo showing the profile of his unborn baby girl gives him added reason to work hard to overcome a paralyzing spinal cord injury, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

“It’s the motivation I need not to roll over and play dead,” said Fairfield, looking at the framed photo in his room at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Being with his girlfriend, Liz Lauer, when she had the 18-week ultrasound was a landmark moment — in part because he thought getting there was impossible.

It required some extra maneuvering by Kaitlin Salowitz, a recreational therapist at Mary Free Bed. She worked with other staff to rearrange his therapy schedule, lined up a van and a helper, and brought Fairfield to the doctor’s office so he could hold Lauer’s hand as they got a first glimpse of their child.

“I just thought, ‘I’ve got to get him there,” said Salowitz, who also is expecting her first child.

As the couple saw the ultrasound image on the screen, they learned they were having a daughter. And it all hit home, Lauer said: “This is really happening.”

“It made it really real,” Fairfield said.

Back at Mary Free Bed, he rolled down the hall with pink wings on his wheelchair and wearing a pink armband and strings of pink beads.

“It was my reveal to everyone here,” he said.

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Fairfield, a 27-year-old Army National Guard sergeant and Iraq War veteran, was injured in a car accident on April 25.

He was in Sheridan and had just gotten his 2006 Mustang GT out of a friend’s garage, where he had stored it. As his friend drove back from the gas station, they were driving about 45 mph when the car went off the road, hit a bump and flipped.

Fairfield’s friend was uninjured. But as the car roof collapsed, it crushed cervical vertebrae in Fairfield’s spine. The C-6 and C-7 vertebrae were “totally shattered,” he said.

He was taken by Aero Med helicopter to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, where he spent 22 days in the Intensive Care Unit. A month after the accident, he arrived at Mary Free Bed, unable to walk and barely able to move his arms. A doctor told him he had about a 10 percent chance of walking again.

“My level of functionality was so low, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to go back to work,” he said.

It was hard to comprehend how quickly their lives changed, Lauer said.

She and Fairfield met as students at Western Michigan University and have been together nearly three years. She works as an ophthalmology technician, and he owns a Farm Bureau Insurance Agency. They live in Kentwood and, before the accident, were planning to buy a tri-level house in January.

On April 1, three weeks before the accident, they found out they were expecting a baby. They were surprised, but excited.

“Life was going — well, not perfect — but it was wonderful,” Lauer said. “We are completely in love. He was going to propose in July. We were going to buy a house that was perfect. He just got his dream car exactly how he wanted it. Work was getting better and better.

“One mild trip down the road just changes your whole life.”

She was amazed at how tough Fairfield has been as he confronts his new challenges. An athlete and weight-lifter, he welcomes aggressive therapy to rebuild his strength and regain function in his arms.

The one question that has tugged at his heart is how his injury will affect his role as a father.

“When it came to the baby, he cried pretty hard thinking about how he wasn’t going to be able to change diapers, give her baths and change her clothes,” Lauer said.

Fairfield said he always wanted to be a dad. With several young siblings, he is comfortable caring for kids.

He is determined to find ways to care for his family, post-accident. He is looking into adaptive equipment that will help him at work. Lauer is looking for baby clothes made with Velcro that would be easier for him to maneuver.

“I have a lot of drive to get back to work to support my family,” he said. “I always wanted to provide for my kids the things I didn’t have.”

In Fairfield’s hospital room, Father’s Day balloons float in one corner, and the wall is covered with pictures of him and Lauer. And there is the framed ultrasound photo of his little girl.
“He is going to be a wonderful dad,” Lauer said. “I am just so thankful he is alive.”

Having a baby on the way is powerful inspiration, Fairfield said.

“I’m excited,” Fairfield said. “That will make it so none of this even matters.”
 

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