'I have to keep moving' -- Carpentersville man fighting to regain mobility after losing legs
"You can't cry about spilled milk." Those words of advice from his father have carried Henry Owens through the most difficult nine months of his life.
Owens, a 49-year-old Carpentersville resident, lost both his legs in June when he was caught in a boat's propellers during a parasailing trip while on a family vacation to the South Carolina shore.
After several surgeries, Owens' legs were amputated above the knees. He underwent intensive rehabilitation at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge to regain his physical strength and now, with weekly physical therapy, hopes to be able to walk again using prosthetics.
"It's a lot of change," said Owens, a financial analyst for Quest Diagnostics in Wood Dale. "I'm still alive. I know that I've lost my legs, but my life has to go on. I have to keep moving."
Owens said the key to recovery is remembering "there are people that love you and you will get support. Just don't give up."
Giving up was not an option because Owens needed to be there for his wife, Melloney, his two sons, Amari, 14, and Malakai, 11, and the dozens of youth he has coached and mentored over the years.
"I'm always telling them to work hard. I would feel like a hypocrite if I didn't do the same," Owens said. "I still feel like I have a long way to go. I've always been an independent person."
Owens said he would like to lift some of the burden off his wife, who now shoulders duties such as taking their sons to practices after work as a social science teacher at Wheeling High School. His sons have had to step up and do more around the house.
"It's taken its toll on them," Owens said. "I just want to feel like I'm helping out again ... make everybody's life to be as normal as possible."
Now, Owens gets tired after walking 100 feet on his prosthetic legs with the aid of a walker. His goal is to be walking with a cane within the next nine months and, eventually, be able to play basketball and football with his sons again.
"I still go to the gym with them ... still coach them on technique. I just can't catch the ball," Owens said. "I want to get back on the basketball court."
Neighbors, community members and members of youth sports groups in Algonquin, Carpentersville and Lake in the Hills have come together to help the former volunteer coach regain his mobility and independence.
Members of the Pop Warner football organization and the Algonquin Argonauts who were coached by Owens installed a wheelchair-accessible ramp at his home. Local construction trade union members remodeled the first floor to convert an office, laundry closet and powder room into a bedroom and shower.
"It's just been an abundance of people just giving their time and effort," Owens said. "They did everything, from building ramps, landscaping, (to) cooking food for us. I've always been a person that helps out, and now, people are helping me out."
Amari's classmates and teammates have set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $100,000 to help with Owens' medical expenses. A previous fundraiser collected more than $50,000. The boys also are planning dodgeball and basketball fundraisers in April at local schools.
Owens and his family also are getting a 2005 Honda Odyssey from fellow coach Scott Kennen, franchise business manager of Midas Crystal Lake. The van has been modified for adapted driving with a wheelchair ramp. Hand controls for acceleration and brakes are being installed this week. Midas Crystal Lake owner Sam Khaira and his crew provided the free labor to install new tires, brakes, drivetrain and suspension parts, and a customer donated an electric scooter that Owens will use to board the van.
"He's a warrior," said Kennen, recalling how Owens used to run up and down the sidelines of the basketball court while coaching. "I never expected Henry to be this far along in a short period of time."
Owens will be learning how to drive again using hand controls on the left side of the steering wheel.
"I really miss this," Owens said after getting behind the wheel for the first time since his accident. "I used to do all the driving. I'm just itching to just go anywhere. Once I can (drive again), I'll feel like I'm free. It's all about freedom right now."