On July 4, 2011, architectural and commercial portrait photographer Kevin Young had a swimming accident that broke three vertebrae in his neck and paralyzed him from the neck down. Listen to his incredible story of recovery, how he got inspiration through photography, and how the experience made him want to help others, including the nurse who saved his life:
The craziest thing is that there was no actual accident. A simple waist-level dive into the water—no collision with any object, no previous injuries—changed Young’s life forever. He was lucky enough to survive and recover from the near-fatal injury, eventually returning to his normal life. But the love and support he received and the way he used photography as therapy to get through the hardest times will stay with him forever.
The story is beyond incredible. Young spent 11 days in ICU, the first six of which the doctors didn’t even know if he would live. But, he stayed strong, and soon his movement began to come back. First, he had a little movement in his right arm, then his leg, and eventually his toes.
He was then transferred to a rehab home where he had to basically relearn every simple everyday function, like swallowing on his own and tying his shoelaces. He had to relearn how to walk. For about a month and a half, he had physical and occupational therapy every day and this, coupled with the mental focus of getting better, left him exhausted all the time. But he met his goal—he walked out of rehab.
After he got home, Young wanted to pick up where he left off, he wanted his old life back, but he soon realized that wasn’t going to be so easy:
“Simple tasks like waking up, eating, showering, and getting dressed for the day—something that would normally take 30 minutes—now took three hours.”
He took multiple naps throughout the day, continued with physical therapy, exhausted all energy on getting better. He became restless at night.
During those nights when he couldn’t sleep, Young turned to photography as a release. He would head out to the beach with his camera gear and shoot long exposures, slowing his camera down to two, four, and eight minute exposures. This helped him to slow down mentally and physically, recompose, and regain some balance in his life.
“Photography became my outlet, it became its own therapy for me. It’s the thing that really got me moving on or transitioning back into a normal life.”
Young received a ton of support from the photography community, which helped him in his recovery. With so much love from family, friends, and his peers, he was able to overcome the physically and emotionally-crippling injuries and experience. It has made him want to give back in any way possible.
He found the nurse who had given him CPR on the beach—a complete stranger who saved his life. In an effort to thank her, Young recently photographed her wedding. He says it’s not comparable to the gift she gave him, but it’s a small way to say thanks.
Watch this video to hear Young’s amazing story and see how it has changed his outlook on life. The way he used his passion—photography—to heal is so motivating and inspiring.
“Let your passion guide your career. Life can really be so short to do anything otherwise.”