Health Advocates/Navigators

Meet Mike: A Dedicated Dad & SCI Navigator at BLINK of an Eye®

“How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time. Life is complicated enough without having SCI. I tell people ‘Welcome to the elite club that you never wanted to be a part of. But now that you’re here, there’s a community of people who are here to help.’ My purpose has found me.” -Mike Uppenkamp

Meet Mike, a pivotal member of BLINK of an Eye®’s rapid response HEAL team network serving the San Diego/Los Angeles area. Mike learned what it’s like when your life changes in the blink of an eye after his son Alex was paralyzed from the chest down from a mountain biking accident. 

“In my family, we called it a ‘hard right turn.’ I had a family of 5 that was supporting my injured son through the ICU, through the rehab at Craig hospital, and then returning home with modifications to the home, finding a vehicle, and continuing on with a new life. So as a family, we navigated the path of trauma. And I realized that not every injured person has that kind of support.”

Now, Mike is making sure other families have the support they need to navigate this complex crisis. He goes bedside with families in the ICUs within hours and days of spinal cord injury, bringing hope, empowerment, advocacy, and logistical navigation tips and trauma-informed approaches for SCI trauma healing. 

Mike is also one of BLINK of an Eye®’s 10 SCI Navigators who take part in ongoing training by Baltimore Mediation in Transformative Mediation skills and relational advocacy in systems. Mike and the other SCI Navigators support newly injured SCI families 24/7 for the first 30 days and throughout the Miracle Year. Mike brings his own lived SCI experience in the ICU as well as how his family navigated the SCI Gap and maze and renormalized living with SCI. He uses his connections and experience to help families remodel their homes to be more accessible, figure out what equipment they need, and find accessible vehicles. 

He also respects that each SCI injury is unique and each family responds to trauma in different ways. Mike is one of our heroes volunteering countless hours supporting SCI families with a Relational mediator mindset: believing newly injured SCI families will know best if they feel connection, cared about and relationally supported. 

We had the chance to ask Mike about the most rewarding part of being an SCI Navigator, and here’s what he had to say: 

“I found that as a result of this hard right turn, I have a lot of skills. And now that my purpose has found me, I am helping family number 9 or 10. I get a lot of personal reward out of sharing my wisdom and my contacts. I know how to modify a home, I have connections for accessible vehicles and durable medical equipment–if you need a wheelchair or shower chair, I have access to most of it. I can help people identify which kind of vehicle they might need. There is a young man who was injured last year and he had a girlfriend, and since I know a couple of young ladies who are girlfriends to SCI, I got them all connected. 

And it’s contagious too. With BLINK of an Eye® we are doing more. More people have joined in helping others. I’m now starting to develop the next generation of SCI Navigators, from the people that I’ve helped. 

To give somebody a hug and share with them that I understand this is the worst time of their life and I’m here to help and make it easier. And then getting a phone call from somebody who says ‘Oh my god what do we do now?’ and giving them information, or a piece of equipment, or direction…it’s really rewarding.”

Thank you, Mike, for your generosity and compassion. We’re all on the journey together.

You can read more about Mike’s family on the Craig Hospital Blog. Mike is one of our special BLINK of an Eye® SCI Navigators who serves newly injured high spine SCI families in California who contact us. We may be contacted through any of our SCI Navigators or by emailing us on our Contact Us form on the website blinkofaneye.org or by calling us on our hotline 1-844-41-BLINK.

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