Paralyzed passenger urges drivers to remove distractions
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — July 16th is a day the Arechiga family will never forget. They had just finished lunch, celebrating a family birthday, when their whole world changed.
J.J. Arechiga, 18, was in a car crash near Squaw Peak in Provo Canyon, along with his cousins and friends.
“This energy just came through my body, like, I knew something bad had happened,” said Ana Castaneda, Arechiga’s sister.
“We went off the edge,” J.J. said, describing the accident while sitting in a hospital bed connected to cords. “We rolled down the mountain a little bit — about seven or eight times.”
“So he basically, like, hit his neck so it cracked or broke his spinal cord,” said Andrea Arechiga, his other sister.
Immediately after the crash, J.J. sat in the car unable to move his limbs. “I kept
asking the paramedics if I was paralyzed,” he said.
His nightmare was a reality: Doctors found J.J. was paralyzed from the neck down. No one in the car was drinking, texting or even speeding.
“We were like teenagers, playing around and got distracted,” J.J. said.
They were listening to music when J.J. and the driver turned around, for a split second, to see their friends in the backseat. He said that was their distraction.
Now, eight months later, J.J. is still in the hospital learning how to move his fingers.
Against the doctor’s initial diagnoses, he is making incredible progress. J.J. can now move his hands and lift his arms.
“You could see them as minor improvements but, to our family and him, they’re major,” Casteneda said.
J.J. held up his hands with his family in the hospital room as they chanted “victory!”
“Those were all things that the doctor said were not going to be possible,” Casteneda said.
J.J. has sacrificed a lot over the past few months. “I should be graduating this year,” J.J. said. Instead, he is tied up in a hospital bed.
Juan Arechiga Sr., J.J.’s father, said his son has never once complained. Through a Spanish translator, Juan Arechiga. said, “He has never asked, ‘Why me?’ He has never cried because of his situation.”
“During the hardest moments, in order to press forward you need to be on your knees praying,” J.J.’s father added.
The Arechiga family remains by J.J.’s side day and night. Today, they share one message: “Just be safe while you are out there driving. That’s all I can say,” J.J. said.
The Arechiga family is expecting about $35,000 in expenses to cover medical bills and remodeling their home to make it wheelchair accessible. A GoFundMe account was established to help pay for those expenses.