When one thinks of their life as a college student, there are not too many pressing situations that come to mind for the need to be a fighter. You may need to fight to stay awake on that fateful night before your Calc final to cram in those last few hours of studying. You could fight for that last spot as a summer intern at a business that would look terrific on your resume. If you are a University of Michigan student, you have definitely fought a few reckless Ohio State fans on that rowdy, incredible game day over Thanksgiving weekend. But for one Michigan student in particular, life has dealt him a whole new hand; an unlucky one that puts all other insignificant fights into a pile of irrelevant fumbles.
Taylor Janssen, a 19-year-old rising Junior from Commerce, Michigan, is fighting the battle of his life- after an unfortunate accident from diving into shallow water, he has been deemed paralyzed from the neck down.
But this is not a story about struggle. It is a story about strength.
On Saturday, July 18th, what seemed to be a fun summer's night with friends on Lake Sherwood, MI did not just end in tragedy, but also began the continuous and devoted fight for Janssen's life. And with his father Mark, his siblings Kris, Justin, Brandon, and Jenny, friends and family spread out nationwide, and the spirit of his late mother Kathy on his side, this is far from a battle that Taylor is confronting alone.
Taylor, or T as his friends and family call him, has an undeniable joy for life that makes him the positive person he prevails to be. Every community he has been a part of, including that of Lakeland High School, the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, the Michigan Alpine Ski and Snowboard Team, the Michigan Alpha chapter of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity and more, have been affected by the sincerity and selflessness that T shows on a daily basis, and even more so by the incident that occurred last weekend.
While attempting to retrieve a fallen volleyball in the waters of Lake Sherwood, Janssen dove head first into unknowingly shallow water and broke his neck at the C5 vertebrae. He was rushed to the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor where surgery was performed to decrease the pressure and stop any further damage. After just one day, he gained the strength to maintain full mental function along with efficient oxygen saturation levels, blood pressure and heart beat, and after a tracheotomy was administered, his breathing levels dramatically improved.
Even before this operation, physical therapy had T working periodically on lifting his arms with his shoulder muscles, and with complete determination and positivity, he ultimately gained the strength to push his arms fully up. "We do have some competitive genes in there from my wife and I," Mark says proudly, "and I have no doubt he will do whatever it takes to make this situation better."
T's progress is not the only thing that has been, for lack of a better word, uplifting, but the incredible love and support that his friends have expressed and spread continue to flood in. It is only fitting that T is being treated in the University of Michigan's Neuro Unit, on the exact campus where the strong bonds he has made with his fraternity brothers triggered an endless domino effect of support.
After a few days of anxiously awaiting Mark's daily Facebook status updates on T's progress, the brothers of the Michigan Alpha chapter of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity took action. With the creation of the #JanssenStrong hashtag, profile pictures and status updates honoring T, and a GoFundMe support fund, the Phi Psi boys not only spread Taylor's story instantly, but raised over $88,000 in just 2 days from 1,101 donors where proceeds will go towards Taylor's rehab and medical bills. In the goodness of their hearts, they instantly brought together a community of #JanssenStrong supporters nationwide who all have come together to share Taylor's story and talk admirably about the boy who has touched each and every one of their hearts.
While reminiscing on the countless ways T has shown his genuinity to the world, his brother Kris talks of an act of gratitude that occurred just two years ago at skiing nationals. "Taylor gave up his racing spot for one of the events so a senior on the team would have an opportunity to race at nationals," he remembers. "It is my understanding that he did so on his own volition."
Taylor is always putting others' happiness on the forefront, no matter what obstacles he needs to take to get there. The night before Father's Day, Taylor had asked his father what he wanted as a present, to which Mark replied, "a bottle of McCallen's scotch." Knowing the prestige of this liquor, Taylor asked his father how much this would cost, to which Mark laughed, said he was kidding, and would come up with some chores for Taylor to do instead. But exactly one month after Father's Day and just 5 short days after the accident, Mark received a box in the mail labeled as The Macallan Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, 12 Years Old.
Talking of the indescribable spread of love and awareness for T, one friend writes, "I would say it's unbelievable, but with a guy like Taylor, the support is endless." Another talks of how the support he is receiving is a true testament to the impact he has made on his friends and his community. Additionally, the amount of descriptions of T being "one of the most amazing people (they) know" is uncountable. One close friend beautifully expresses his admiration for T by writing,
"you embody everything that is good in a human being. You have three big brothers by blood, and many more as friends, who will always look out for you, buddy. The incomprehensible sequence of events that have struck you and your family this past year and a half leave me with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. But you know what, if anyone can get through this, it is you."
The sequence of events mentioned refers to the loss of the beloved Kathy A. Janssen, Taylor's mother, who passed away in 2013 from Triple Negative Adenocarcinoma- a rare form of breast cancer. After T's medical bills have been fully covered, all proceeds to the Taylor Janssen Support Fund will go towards the Kathy A. Janssen Foundation, a memorial set up in the loving memory of Taylor's mother to provide financial assistance to causes that captivated Kathy during her life. Looking down on him to help him through this fight is T's guardian angel, who always used to say, "he is a Janssen, and Janssens do not give up."
#JanssenStrong has not only touched the hearts of those personally affected by T, but also those of some familiar faces in the Michigan spotlight. In addition to the spreading hashtag and Twitter updates galore, NBA star and former University of Michigan basketball player Nik Stauskas sent Taylor a personal video message sending his love and support, and wishing him good luck on his road to recovery. Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh, former San Francisco 49ers head coach, also sent Taylor a supportive email of encouragement. Mark read this to his son, whose smile was contagious and beaming with gratitude for the coach.
T continues to progress and fight along his road to recovery with receptive communication, acknowledgment of silly jokes told by his brothers, and plenty of loving smiles. The Janssens hope for T to be transferred to the physical therapy unit and out of ICU by early next week. His father stays positive with his daily Facebook updates, which usually end in uplifting quotes that shed understanding on Taylor's story. One in particular reads, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference. - Reinhold Niebuhr."
Although God has granted Taylor this severely heavy circumstance, the courage he holds deep within his heart is amplified by the constant love and support he has received over the last week. The many donations, gifts, visits, and words of encouragement provided by the #JanssenStrong community and the strides that this Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter have made to show their admiration for Taylor prove how strong friendship truly can be. This brotherhood is a rare form of love that they have been taught to not take for granted.
Mark also notes that life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it. Taylor, who stepped into this world over 3 months premature, is responding to the hand he was dealt as the hero he always has been- a true fighter. We all have our individual battles, and whether we are fighting for a passing grade on a final exam or for our best friend to at least make it until tomorrow morning, we should never stop fighting. So whether you pledged brotherhood with Taylor back in 2013 as a PKP, sat next to him in biology at Lakeland High School, skied alongside of him on snowy vacations up north, or are a perfect stranger seemingly touched by his triumphant journey, I will leave you with this- has #JanssenStrong given you something to fight for?
All donations to help fund Taylor's rehabilitation process can go towards the Taylor Janssen Support Fund at http://www.gofundme.com/zvkvng.