One minute, Dr. Russell Moon, 58, was a super-fit cyclist with a thriving dental practice in Santa Monica, Calif. The next, he was paralyzed from the shoulders down. A driver making a left turn didn't see him, and knocked Dr. Moon off his mountain bike.
"As soon as I hit the ground, I knew it was serious," he said, "because I couldn't move my arms or legs. I was in the ICU at UCLA for three weeks. Doctors kept testing my nerves, but nothing was moving. No one said I'd never walk or move my arms again, but I got the feeling that was the case."
Exactly a year later, Dr. Moon is back at work. He can no longer perform dental surgery, but he is making diagnoses, forming treatment plans and running the administrative side at his new wheelchair-accessible practice in west L.A.
Dr. Moon can talk, breathe unaided and move his high-tech wheelchair up, down and around by breathing into a tube. He makes and receives phone calls using bluetooth, and reads and writes texts and emails by touching his Android cellphone, which he does by using a stick in his mouth.
The C3 and C4 vertebrae of his spinal cord were fractured. It happened at dusk as Dr. Moon was cycling home after an exhilarating mountain bike ride. He was wearing a helmet and he had lights on his bike. He doesn't bear any animosity toward the driver. "It was an accident," he says. The driver's insurance company has already settled the case, but Dr. Moon was never contacted by the driver. He said, "It would have been nice if he had apologized to me."
Dr. Moon spent six months in a Chatsworth transitional facility before moving back into the Santa Monica home he shared with his girlfriend, Sarah, who Dr. Moon says has been incredibly loving and supportive throughout. Their home had to have ramps put in to accommodate his wheelchair.
"There were times when I wished I had died." said Dr. Moon. "It's been a gradual transition to want to start living again."
His dental practice fell by the wayside and he had to start over, this time with a partner, Dr. Kevin Lu.
Before the accident, Dr. Moon had been lecturing at UCLA's dental school one day a week. Dr. Lu was one of his students. "Kevin is outstanding. I asked him if he wanted to go into business with me. I'm contacting my old patients and they are coming back. I don't really have any hopes or expectations for the business, I just want to feel productive and give back to society. Staying home and lying in bed is not my cup of tea."
Dr. Moon has a nurse with him seven days a week until he goes to sleep. He receives physiotherapy throughout the day to keep his circulation going and when his shoulders start aching from inactivity, which is often.
Dr. Moon had been back at work for a week when I spoke with him and he said it was going well. He's taking life one day at a time, and advises everyone to do the same.
What would he have done differently if he had his time over again? "I would have traveled more and worked less."
Dr. Moon hasn't figured out air travel yet, but he plans to go places with Sarah.
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