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Metro Detroit nonprofit helps teens facing illness, serious injury

U of M student paralyzed in accident on Lake Sherwood receives hospital room makeover

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DETROIT – Taylor Janssen never spends a day alone in his hospital room. Family and friends make sure someone is there every day.

Janssen, 20, will spend several more weeks at the University of Michigan hospital recovering from a spinal cord injury.

The University of Michigan student was playing volleyball with friends on July 18 along Lake Sherwood when the ball went in the water. He went in after it.

"I just dove into the water," said Janssen. "I just remember my head hitting the ground and not being able to move face down in the water. That was probably the scariest moment there, and (after) probably a couple (of) minutes, I'm not really sure how long,  my friends got me out of the water and laid me down, and that's when I called my dad and the paramedics."

Janssen broke one of the vertebrae in his neck.

"It's C-5 complete, so it's pretty high up in the neck, and typically you don't have any function below the shoulders, so he has actually gotten function below the shoulders below the injury some, which is good," said Janssen's father, Mark Janssen.

The family remains positive about Janssen's recovery and the doctor's prognosis.

"Right now they think biceps and triceps, so arm movement, and he's got some wrist movement, and that's what they're expecting at the end of the day, but we're hopeful for more," Mark Janssen said.

Mark Janssen spends nearly every night sleeping in the chair next to his son's bed. Family members take turns replacing him so he can have a night at home.

Taylor Janssen's friends, including his Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers, have supported him since the day of the accident.  They often gather in his room, bring him dinner or sit and watch TV with him. 

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They also reached out to the nonprofit Wish Upon A Teen, which makes over the rooms of teenagers who will be in the hospital for weeks, months or longer. The Design My Room program is for teenagers with serious illnesses or severe injuries.

"By transforming your hospital room into a more bedroom-like setting, it brings your stress level down, it helps aid in your recovery time, (and) at times you maybe need less pain medication or other medication," said Wish Upon A Teen CEO, Michelle Soto.

For Taylor Janssen, Wish Upon A Teen, brought in decorations from his two favorite teams: the University of Michigan and the Detroit Tigers. The sports-inspired decorations included fatheads of Janssen's favorite players, posters from different games, new lighting and bedding to make Janssen's bed feel more like home.

"One of the biggest issues for patients and especially teens is kind of a feeling of isolation, a feeling of being separated from their friends and from their family and just the things that are normal for them," said J.J. Bouchard, a certified child life specialist at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor. "When Wish Upon A Teen comes in, a lot of time their friends are involved, their family is involved and it gives them a sense of control, a sense of ownership of their room."

Taylor Janssen loved the room makeover.  
"It's a amazing," he said. "What they came in and brought to my room is, you know, really special to kind of make it a little more livable as I'm here going through rehab.  It feels less like a hospital room and more like a place I can live and have friends come ... The fatheads, I think are really cool that they brought in and then just the bed setup that they brought in is really cool, with new sheets and comforter, and I think they brought in a couple pillows, too."
Bouchard said Taylor Janssen's friends have helped create a comfortable environment.
"Having his friends here to help him decorate the room and kind of give him that sense of community, even though he is not with his friends, where he would probably like to be. It's a great opportunity for friends to get involved and to bring them here," Bouchard said.

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"What they do is phenomenal and I know he is pretty pumped up about it.  It's outstanding," Mark Janssen said. "He has got a good attitude, but what his friends have done for them and what these folks have done for him, that all just helps all the more."
Taylor Janssen has remained positive since his accident and attributes the support he's received as one of the main reasons why.  He told Local 4 that the help, care and concern from everyone, including strangers, has really motivated him.

"Any negative thoughts I may have had at first were immediately put out of my mind once I saw how many people I had pushing for me and supporting what I was going through and really just everything that other people are willing to do for me has motivated me to do anything I can to show them that I'm going to be OK and I'm going to be myself and I am myself and I'll be just fine," Taylor Janssen said.
Mark and Taylor Janssen have created their own word, "real-optimist" to describe their attitude toward the injury.
Janssen is expected to spend several weeks living in his hospital room.  He hopes to be released in October.

Janssen would have been a junior at UM this fall. He is studying finance and accounting and hopes to return to school for the 2016 school year. If possible, he would like to live on campus.
"I think the biggest thing that this taught me is the value of the relationships you make just having friends and family there for you, more than anything," Taylor Janssen said.

Wish Upon A Teen's Design My Room program makes over the rooms of 15 to 20 teenagers each week. They rely on sponsors and donations. For more information, click here.

Janssen's friends created a GoFundMe account and are posting updates on his condition.  To check it out, click here.