Paralyzed Veterans of America acting as a ‘guardian angel’ for veterans

April is PVA awareness month, and Shaun Castle opens up about his service, his injury, and how being a member of PVA saved his life

From near death to becoming a top collegiate athlete, U.S. Army veteran Shaun Castle is an amazing story of the power of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) to highlight during PVA Awareness Month.

“I woke up from my second surgery, and Anthony Steele [Central Regional Director at Montgomery VAMC] from PVA was in my hospital room and Anthony looked at me and said ‘Shaun, I’m from PVA. Don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you and everything is going to be all right,’ and since that day I haven’t had to fight for anything,” says Castle. “I’ve been able to focus on my recovery because I knew that PVA was there for me.”

U.S. Army

Castle joined the U.S. Army in October 2000 and served as a military police officer until 2004. During his service, he was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, and countries such as Bosnia and other parts of Europe. Many of Castle’s family members were veterans, which had a big impact his decision to join.

His injury

In 2004, Castle was injured during a training accident. The injury left him with two cracked vertebrae and three herniated discs, which led to needing prosthetic discs in his spinal cord. Immediately after his surgery, he started doing rehab and was originally able to walk. Castle was fully mobile for about a year after he came home, but his mobility reached an end. He ended up having to use a wheelchair. Years later he had a deathly allergic reaction to his pain medications and his life was close to ending.

“When I got to the hospital I didn’t realize quite how far gone I was and was actually pretty close to passing away,” he says.

Fortunately, Castle recovered. Not long after his recovery, he found the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Ala., where he did his rehabilitation.

PVA’s role in his recovery

“It’s been like I have a guardian angel that I carry with me that anytime anything happens, I can turn to them and go what do I do, how do it do it and they say, ‘Don’t worry we are taking care of this for you’, and they have,” Castle says about PVA.

Castle thanks PVA for his success and the opportunities that have come his way.

“I get to play basketball as collegiate athlete and a professional athlete, I’m in a commercial, I was in a movie, I’ve been all over different magazines, I’m traveling the world, I’m on the radio, I’m meeting these amazing people and I’m opening up doors to be able to help other veterans,” Castle says. “It is an unbelievable blessing that I have been able to be a part of PVA.”

Being a PVA member of the southeast chapter has helped Castle with taking care of his benefits, getting him more involved in adaptive sports, his medical issues and they have introduced him to other people in his situation and people who want to help. Because of PVA, Castle has had peace of mind and has been able to push towards his recovery and making his dreams a reality.

“I know there’s a lot of other organizations out there, but I’m telling you right now there’s no other organization in America that does what PVA does for veterans,” Castle says. “I have never once in my entire time as a paralyzed veteran had to fight for my benefits. I went from being injured, to being fully taken care of by the Departments of Veterans Affairs within six months after my second surgery. I didn’t have to fight for anything.”

Student athlete

Before playing wheelchair basketball in college, Castle played professional wheelchair basketball in Lyon, France. When he returned from Europe, he wanted to go to college and continue playing basketball. Going to college had always been a dream of Castle’s, and adaptive sports helped make his dream become a reality. Luckily for Castle, even though he played professionally, he was still able to join the team at his college. He is currently a senior at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he plays a big role as an athlete for the wheelchair basketball team. The Modern Media and American Law major will be graduating this August after only three years at the university. Over the course of three years, Castle has maintained a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) while being a top athlete, traveling, having a social life and spending time with his wife, Stephanie.

After he graduates he will be returning to France to play another season of professional wheelchair basketball.

Why it’s important to reach out when you need help

As an injured veteran, Castle strongly believes that getting the help you need is crucial to recovery. Whether it’s from family, friends, adaptive sports, or PVA, getting help when you need it is important.

“If you’re a veteran, and you came home injured, whether it was a traumatic brain injury, spinal-cord injury, amputation or any of the other things that could have happened while you were in the military, listen to the very first part of what I just said – you came home,” Castle says. “We can get out back into life and to make our life better than we ever dreamed. I’m proved positive of that. I am a perfect example of someone who went to the depths, who went down about as far as a human being could go and found something to grab a hold of in his life. I would say to anybody out there who’s a veteran who is injured, even if you’re not and you think you just need something, try a sport. Even if athletics is not something you want to do, there’s so many other opportunities, especially if you’re part of PVA. But remember, you came home. Every day you wake up there’s an opportunity to change who you are. I was literally within hours of being dead, and five years later I am here talking to you as someone who is about to be a college graduate and a professional athlete, and hopefully one day a Paralympian. If I can do it, trust me, anybody can come back and be in a place where I am.”

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