I recently watched the documentary, 7 Yards, which details the heroic story of Chris Norton. At the age 18, Chris suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury with only a 3% chance of survival.
However, not only did Chris survive, but he was also able to walk across the stage with his fiancé for his college diploma.

If you watch the documentary, you will see the long and treacherous recovery for Chris, and how he continually works hard to walk on his own to this day. However, he has made huge strides.
Shortly after his injury, one doctor plainly told him he would never walk again. I was impressed Chris did not believe this prognosis, and he vowed to get back on his feet.
Go Beyond the Vitals
A nurse who worked with Chris had a different perspective on his potential recovery. In him, she saw a dedicated young man who was unwilling to accept a life in a wheelchair.
This nurse made a comment that resonated with me …
You have to go beyond the vitals.”
The point here is that, in most cases, a spinal cord injury can lead to paralysis. The injured person will likely be wheelchair-bound, and acceptance is an important phase to reach.
However, there are exceptional cases, and Chris Norton was one of them. He had to look beyond the vitals to bravely fight for his future.
Lessons Learned
There are many simple everyday lessons I can learn from this story, and here are some examples …

  • As a professor, it’s important I give every student a chance to succeed. I often teach graduate-level courses where students are managing many outside responsibilities, such as full-time employment and family-related activities. I can look beyond the classroom to learn the challenges faced by these students and offer some leniency when appropriate. There are ways that we can maintain academic rigor and show empathy.
  • As a friend, I can reach out to someone who wants to share what is happening in their life. We are often so busy that we fail to spot when someone we care about is looking to be heard. I can go above and beyond by offering to have lunch with this person. I understand a phone call might work, but if my friend is nearby, it’s more impactful to see them face-to-face.
  • As a husband, I can worry less about what is happening in my life and spend more time doing things that are important to my wife. In the past, I’ve made excuses when my wife invites me to accompany her to certain events. Her birthday is coming up soon, and we plan to visit a museum here in San Antonio that she loves. The more I connect with her and focus on what makes her happy, the more our relationship prospers.

As in the above examples, we are often presented with daily opportunities to look beyond the surface to really see what is going on in the lives of those around us.
Yes, there are times when we will falter, but that is just part of the journey. As I learned from Chris Norton, getting better does take time, and perhaps more importantly, it requires humility.
So, the next time I make a negative judgement about something or someone, I will make sure to stop and tell myself that going beyond the vitals will help me realize the full story.