The way For­ward

A judge helped a quad­ri­plegic man be­come a lawyer. Could he help her re­cover from a cat­a­strophic fall?


It was the be­gin­ning of a sum­mer that promised to be one of his best ever. ¶ Josh Basile loved his new job as a lawyer at a top med­i­cal mal­prac­tice firm in Washington. He was smit­ten with a pretty, dark-haired young woman he’d started dat­ing. Andhe was plan­ning a big party to mark a mo­men­tous mile­stone: the 10-year an­niver­sary of the day a wave slammed his body head-first into the hard sand of a Delaware beach, crush­ing the fifth ver­te­bra be­low his skull and trans­form­ing him in­stantly from an 18-year-old col­lege ten­nis player into a young man who could not brush his own teeth. ¶ Then, on a June day in 2014, an e-mail ap­peared on his iPad screen. It was from a clerk for U.S. Dis­trict Judge Ellen Hu­velle, a prom­i­nent fed­eral jus­tice who had hired Basile for an in­tern­ship more than four years ear­lier and re­mained a friend and men­tor to him. Basile fig­ured the note might be an in­vi­ta­tion to lunch.

¶ It wasn’t. The e-mail to the judge’s friends and col­leagues said she’d suf­fered a

hor­ri­ble ac­ci­dent: Ellen fell down a flight of stairs in Bos­ton on Fri­day evening . . .

¶ The in­jury to her spine was se­vere. She’d al­ready had emer­gency surgery, and her prog­no­sis was un­known.

Basile stared at the words, sit­ting in his wheel­chair at his home in Po­tomac, Md. For a mo­ment, dread over­whelmed him. Then, his thoughts turned prac­ti­cal.

Where ex­actly, he asked, was she hurt? Basile’s own in­jury was con­cen­trated at the C4 and C5 ver­te­brae — fourth and fifth from the top of the spine. The higher an in­jury, the more dev­as­tat­ing the con­se­quences. Please, he thought, let it not be that bad for her.

The an­swer came two days later: Hu­velle had dam­aged her C4, C5 and C6 ver­te­brae. The same part of the spine where Basile was in­jured.

In a sense, Basile had pre­pared for this mo­ment for 10 years. He’d made it his mis­sion to help peo­ple dev­as­tated by sud­den, se­ri­ous spinal cord in­juries, and he’d es­tab­lished him­self as a widely rec­og­nized ad­vo­cate. Basile’s non­profit foun­da­tion, De­ter­mined 2 Heal, had as­sem­bled lists of re­sources and in­struc­tional videos and cre­ated a vast so­cial men­tor­ing net­work — called “SPINAL pe­dia” — where the in­jured could con­nect with one another and learn to nav­i­gate the trans­formed land­scape of their lives. Basile had sur­vived, in part, by help­ing so many oth­ers do the same.

But this was per­sonal. He’d never been a men­tor to some­one he’d known be­fore he or she was in­jured, let alone some­one who had been a men­tor to him.

A sick­en­ing crack

“These early days are so con­fus­ing and are filled with so many unan­swered ques­tions,” he wrote the judge. “These ques­tions will be an­swered with time and should not be your fo­cus.”

Basile doesn’t let him­self think much about the very be­gin­ning— howhe awoke in a hellscape of beep­ing hos­pi­tal ma­chines, ren­dered mute by the ven­ti­la­tor plugged into his wind­pipe. He re­vis­its that place only to help guide oth­ers out of it.

“I would love to hear your voice and share with you some of my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences from the early days and dis­cuss with you any­thing that’s on your mind,” he told her.

Hu­velle read Basile’s e-mails as she lay in her bed at La­hey Hos­pi­tal and Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Burling­ton, Mass., where she’d un­der­gone emer­gency surgery to ease the pres­sure on her spinal cord and sta­bi­lize the three dam­aged ver­te­brae. Her hus­band, Jeffrey Hu­velle, and their chil­dren, Nikki Mil­berg and Justin Hu­velle — who first in­tro­duced Basile to the judge — stayed by her side.

Be­cause he couldn’t visit, Basile of­fered en­cour­ag­ing mes­sages and in­spi­ra­tional ac­counts of other sur­vivors. He sent lengthy charts filled with equip­ment he rec­om­mended, com­plete with im­ages and links for ev­ery item: a cupholder with a hand strap, a wheel­chair ramp that fits in the trunk of a car, a voice recog­ni­tion pro­gram with a le­gal vo­cab­u­lary.

The judge was a for­mi­da­ble woman, and Basile knew she would strug­gle with the in­dig­nity of be­ing ut­terly de­pen­dent on other peo­ple. But the un­cer­tainty of her cir­cum­stances would be hard­est to bear. She’d built a distin­guished ca­reer deal­ing in clear in­for­ma­tion, firm an­swers. Now, there would be none.

Still, there was rea­son to hope: Hu­velle was able to wig­gle a toe, a cru­cial in­di­ca­tion that a sig­nal from her brain had forged a path through the dam­aged nerves in her neck to the mus­cles in her foot.

“Over the next few weeks and months it is so im­por­tant to fo­cus on what you can do rather than dwelling on what you can­not,” he e-mailed. “The fact that you have some move­ment be­low your level of in­jury pro­vides so much hope, and I don’t want you to for­get that.”

As he sought to re­as­sure Hu­velle, his thoughts kept re­turn­ing to the days when he lay im­mo­bi­lized in a hos­pi­tal bed at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Shock Trauma Cen­ter.

The Aug. 1, 2004, ac­ci­dent hap­pened so sud­denly, with such mer­ci­less fi­nal­ity. The sound has stayed with him, the sick­en­ing crack of bone shat­ter­ing, how he heard it through the swirling wa­ter and from in­side his skull. He still re­mem­bers the way the im­pact re­ver­ber­ated down the length of his body as the nerves went dark, like a string of lights blow­ing out.

The fu­ture of a life is some­times de­ter­mined by frac­tions of mil­lime­ters. If the brunt of the im­pact had shifted slightly one way, Basile might have fully re­cov­ered. A slight shift the other way, and he might be dead.

There is only what did hap­pen: a burst C5 ver­te­bra and a dis­placed C4, the bone crushed against the spinal cord and its vi­tal nerve path­ways that travel from the brain to the lower ex­trem­i­ties. Basile was left with no sen­sa­tion be­low his chest. He can shrug his shoul­ders. His left arm can move some­what at the shoul­der and the el­bow. His right hand can push a joy­stick, but his fin­gers can’t grip a pen.

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the ac­ci­dent, Basile’s mind was a heav­ily med­i­cated haze of an­guish and con­fu­sion. The tem­per­a­ture of his body fluc­tu­ated wildly, his ner­vous sys­tem in chaos. Asleep, he dreamed of run­ning down steep hills, faster and faster un­til he lost con­trol and knew there was noth­ing to do but fall.

But be­ing alone was the worst thing — worse than the fev­ers and night­mares, even worse than not be­ing able to breathe. So, in the ster­ile si­lence that set­tled long af­ter vis­it­ing hours had ended, Basile would slip his chin be­neath his neck brace and wig­gle un­til the ven­ti­la­tor popped out of his neck with an an­gry hiss. The ma­chines blared, and his chest tight­ened; it felt like drown­ing. But his des­per­ate ploy was al­ways suc­cess­ful. The nurses would come run­ning, and then they would be be­side him, touch­ing him, putting the ven­ti­la­tor back in place. When they left, he clicked his tongue fran­ti­cally, a voice­less plea: Come back, come back.

‘The luck­i­est one’

Basile had hoped that Hu­velle would be here, among the 30-some peo­ple gath­ered in a cozy back room of an Ital­ian res­tau­rant in Bethesda, Md., where his long-planned an­niver­sary party was fi­nally un­der­way.

But as Basile cel­e­brated a decade’s worth of hope and heal­ing, Hu­velle was en­dur­ing the early weeks of her own gru­el­ing re­cov­ery.

He sat fac­ing his guests, a per­pet­ual smile on his round, boy­ish face. His tall frame was se­cured in his wheel­chair with straps, wo­ven through slits in the sides of his but­ton-down shirt. Be­side him, his girl­friend, a 30-year-old an­a­lyst for the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, gen­tly lifted a straw to his lips when he ges­tured to­ward his wa­ter glass.

“If you were in­vited here tonight, it’s be­cause you are a VIP in my life,” Basile said in a faintly raspy voice, a per­ma­nent re­sult of weak­ened lungs.

He was sur­rounded by the peo­ple who’d helped him be­come who he is: a magna cum laude law school grad­u­ate and as­so­ciate at Jack H. Olen­der & As­so­ci­ates, where he rep­re­sents vic­tims of cat­a­strophic in­jury; an in­ven­tor who patented a de­vice that al­lows wheelchairus­ing golfers to putt a ball; the founder of De­ter­mined 2 Heal who has ad­vo­cated for stem cell re­search on Capi­tol Hill and has spo­ken at con­fer­ences across the coun­try.

He thanked his mother, Ne­dra Basile, for sleep­ing in his room for two and a half months while he lived at Na­tional Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Hos­pi­tal in the “dark­est days” of his re­cov­ery. He thanked his fa­ther, John Basile, who ren­o­vated his stately home to make it fully wheelchairac­ces­si­ble and had lived with his son since he came home from the hos­pi­tal. Their re­la­tion­ship, Basile said, “is one of the best things my in­jury has given me.”

Basile thanked his de­voted big sis­ter and his ro­tat­ing staff of three round-the­clock aides. He thanked the old friends who’d pulled his limp body onto the sand, and the new friends with whom he had a spinal in­jury in com­mon.

He turned fi­nally to his new girl­friend, who smiled as their eyes met. “We’ve re­ally con­nected, and I’ve re­ally fallen for her. I love ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment we spend to­gether.”

He faced the group, his face flushed and his voice al­most gone. “I’m the luck­i­est one,” he said.

The mo­ment was ev­ery­thing he’d hoped for, de­spite the few im­por­tant peo­ple miss­ing — his for­mer ten­nis dou­bles part­ner, a few dear friends from re­hab. And Hu­velle.

Basile knew what he would have said if she had been there, how he would have paid trib­ute to her for of­fer­ing him a cov­eted in­tern­ship in her cham­bers, where the con­fer­ence room was trans­formed into a wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble workspace and her of­fice door was al­ways open to him. He’d al­ready sent her the words: I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for me. ... I would not be where I am to­day with­out you in my life.

‘I’ve hit the wall’

At 67, Ellen Hu­velle was long ac­cus­tomed to get­ting things done a cer­tain way and at a cer­tain speed. Dur­ing her 16 years as a fed­eral judge, Hu­velle had built a rep­u­ta­tion for mov­ing with ma­chine-like ef­fi­ciency through her cases, which have in­cluded sev­eral high­pro­file an­titrust dis­putes as well as the public cor­rup­tion scheme or­ches­trated by Repub­li­can lob­by­ist Jack Abramoff.

From her hos­pi­tal bed in Mas­sachusetts, Hu­velle kept watch over her docket and wel­comed a steady pa­rade of visi­tors, hold­ing fast to the fa­mil­iar. But her phys­i­cal re­cov­ery lacked any pre­dictable sense of or­der. Basile had cau­tioned her to ex­pect a two-steps-for­ward, one-step-back­ward rhythm in her re­hab. Still, she felt be­trayed by mus­cles she’d honed over years of reg­u­lar yoga and pi­lates, strength that had van­ished so quickly.

Later, she would re­mem­ber the pa­tience of the ther­a­pists who pushed her a lit­tle harder each day, the ex­haust­ing rep­e­ti­tion of ex­er­cises, and the whiplash be­tween hope and dis­ap­point­ment with each small suc­cess or fail­ure.

“Each day I would do some­thing a lit­tle bet­ter, but we’re talk­ing about very small, in­cre­men­tal-type changes,” she said. “It’s when you can’t do some­thing that you feel like, ‘Now I’ve hit the wall.’ ”

Basile knew how crit­i­cal and all-con­sum­ing this stage could be. When he’d learned that Hu­velle would trans­fer to Spauld­ing Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Hos­pi­tal, where sev­eral vic­tims of the Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ing had been treated, he called one of the hos­pi­tal’s staff ad­min­is­tra­tors. What kind of fa­cil­i­ties did they have? What was their pa­tient-to-ther­a­pist ra­tio? Did they of­fer restora­tive ther­apy, which could help her re­gain move­ment that had been lost in the ac­ci­dent?

The ad­min­is­tra­tor was be­mused. He said he’d never had some­one ask these sorts of de­tailed ques­tions for a new pa­tient.

“I’m a quad­ri­plegic,” Basile told him. “I’m look­ing out for a friend.”

‘Hope is hope’

Of the more than 12,000 spinal cord in­juries that oc­cur ev­ery year in the United States, car crashes are the most com­mon cause, fol­lowed by falls. Acts of vi­o­lence— guns, mostly— and ac­ci­dents ac­count for most other cases.

Cristina Sad­owsky, who treated Basile at the Kennedy Krieger In­sti­tute’s In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Spinal Cord In­jury, has seen some pa­tients ar­rive on stretch­ers, com­pletely par­a­lyzed, seem­ingly be­yond hope — and then, weeks or months later, walk out.

“There are mir­a­cle pa­tients; there are ex­cep­tions to the rule,” said Sad­owsky, clin­i­cal di­rec­tor at the cen­ter in Bal­ti­more. “We try to study those in­di­vid­u­als as much as we can, to learn why they are dif­fer­ent.”

There is lit­tle cer­tainty when it comes to spinal in­jury. Within the 33 ver­te­brae of the spine is a vast range of pos­si­ble prog­noses. Di­ag­no­sis is clearer: a “com­plete” in­jury means the spinal cord was sev­ered, while “in­com­plete”— which ap­plies to both Basile and Hu­velle — means the dam­age was not ab­so­lute.

The lo­ca­tion of a spinal in­jury mat­ters. Dam­age to the tho­racic ver­te­brae, in the mid­dle of the back, could mean paral­y­sis of the lower limbs. High in the cer­vi­cal range at the top of the spine, and the pa­tient might not ever be able to breathe with­out a ven­ti­la­tor. A bro­ken C1 ver­te­bra — as was the case with the late ac­tor and stem cell re­search ad­vo­cate Christo­pher Reeve— is the worst sce­nario.

A spinal in­jury also can be fi­nan­cially dev­as­tat­ing. More than a quar­ter of a mil­lion Amer­i­cans are liv­ing with spinal cord in­juries, and the cost of man­ag­ing their care is about $3 bil­lion per year, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health.

Basile is quick to note that he is luck­ier than most in this re­gard. His fa­ther is a suc­cess­ful urol­o­gist, and Basile’s fam­ily could af­ford the $60,000 van, the $35,000 wheel­chair, the ex­ten­sive home ren­o­va­tions and the team of aides.

For two years af­ter the ac­ci­dent, re­hab was Basile’s full-time job. He was de­ter­mined to walk again within a fewyears, a goal that proved unattain­able.

“The im­prove­ments he made ... weren’t the mag­i­cal ones, they weren’t the mir­a­cle ones,” Sad­owsky said.

But he hasn’t stopped work­ing to keep his mus­cles alive. Basile re­mains con­fi­dent that science hovers on the cusp of a break­through, whether it comes through stem cell re­search or the de­vel­op­ment of a so­phis­ti­cated ex­oskele­ton or some­thing he can’t even imag­ine yet.

“I’m a big be­liever in hope. Some peo­ple might de­fine it as ‘false hope,’ but I don’t,” he said. “Hope is hope. And I’m ex­cited for the day when I get to keep my mind — the ma­tu­rity that my in­jury has given me, the mind­ful­ness and aware­ness and the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of this world— but also have the phys­i­cal abil­ity to ex­pe­ri­ence life at that next level.”

He paused for a mo­ment, seem­ingly lost in thought. “I can’t wait.”

A mirac­u­lous mo­ment

Through e-mails and phone calls, Basile re­lent­lessly cheered Hu­velle’s progress and her emo­tional re­silience. She was al­ready think­ing about cases await­ing her back in Washington, speak­ing with the no-non­sense tone Basile had al­ways known, and ask­ing lots of ques­tions: Where to find a wheel­chair in Washington? What about in-home help? And how ex­actly does this voice­ac­ti­vated soft­ware work?

Then, around the time of Basile’s an­niver­sary party, Hu­velle’s phys­i­cal ther­a­pists in­tro­duced her to Spauld­ing’s ther­apy pool. With the bur­den of grav­ity re­lieved, Hu­velle bal­anced her weight against a float­ing dumb­bell— and moved her legs for­ward through the wa­ter.

Six weeks later, as the sum­mer heat gave way to early au­tumn, Hu­velle came home to Washington.

Basile knew that Hu­velle had been able to take steps with the help of so­phis­ti­cated ther­apy equip­ment. But that alone didn’t tell him much— he’d known other quadriplegics who were able to move their limbs in a har­ness or a zero-grav­ity en­vi­ron­ment. It was al­ways an en­cour­ag­ing sign, but move­ment in the real world was an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

“I’m a big be­liever in hope. Some peo­ple might de­fine it as ‘false hope,’ but I don’t. Hope is hope.”

Josh Basile, on his belief that he’ll walk again some­day

So he had no idea what to ex­pect the first time he saw Hu­velle, three weeks af­ter she re­turned to the Dis­trict and set­tled into a tem­po­rary, wheelchairac­ces­si­ble apart­ment. When he ar­rived one Oc­to­ber evening with his aide, Hu­velle’s hus­band opened the door.

Hu­velle was sit­ting in a rock­ing chair, with a walker in front of her. She rose from the chair, pushed the walker to where Basile sat, and wrapped him in a hug.

In his life be­fore the ac­ci­dent, this kind of mo­ment might have made Basile weep; he was al­ways an emo­tional kid, he said. But he’s taken an­tide­pres­sants since his in­jury, med­i­ca­tion that helps him main­tain a zen­like equi­lib­rium at the cost of dulling his most pow­er­ful feel­ings.

Still, as he stared at the woman al­most 40 years his se­nior, stand­ing be­fore him against all odds, his eyes were wet.

“Amaz­ing,” he kept say­ing, “amaz­ing.”

Mov­ing on

It wasn’t the first time Basile had watched a quad­ri­plegic make such re­mark­able progress. He still re­mem­bers the mo­ment he sawan in­jured boy he had men­tored take steps with a walker. These mir­a­cles fill him with hap­pi­ness and hope: They mean that re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble, both for the peo­ple he cares about and— maybe, some­day— for him.

He ad­mits that he some­times looks at para­plegics and thinks, if only I had my

hands ... But he doesn’t suc­cumb to jeal­ousy, he said, not in the nine years since he was asked to visit a quad­ri­plegic who’d suf­fered a blood clot dur­ing an emer­gency surgery. When­the young­man woke up, he was blind as well as par­a­lyzed.

“I came home that night and all I could think is, ‘I have noth­ing to com­plain about,’ ” Basile re­called. “That mo­ment changed my life.”

Still, Basile is con­stantly aware of the way his in­jury af­fects his daily ex­is­tence. It’s not that he de­nies the lim­i­ta­tions or frus­tra­tions of his re­al­ity; he just in­vests his great­est energy and at­ten­tion in ev­ery­thing else.

Basile prac­tices what he calls “The Three-Sec­ond Rule”: In the midst of a happy mo­ment, he counts, slowly, to three, ab­sorb­ing ev­ery de­tail of his sur­round­ings and his feel­ings. He care­fully ar­chives the mem­o­ries and makes sure there is al­ways some­thing to look for­ward to, another mem­ory to be made.

And so, in Oc­to­ber, he took a group of young para­plegics and quadriplegics to fly in glider air­planes in south­ern Vir­ginia. He rel­ished their wide-eyed joy af­ter soar­ing above the Ap­palachian fo­liage, with the help of a co-pi­lot.

In De­cem­ber, he gave his girl­friend a heart-shaped neck­lace for their six­month an­niver­sary, and they talked about how he should move out of his fa­ther’s house and try liv­ing on his own.

In Jan­uary, he wheeled into a brand­new model apart­ment in Bethesda, its floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows filled with sky.

Basile had lived with his fa­ther for 10 years. The two were insep­a­ra­ble, shar­ing din­ners to­gether in the lush backyard gar­den, Net­flix marathons, video games over tum­blers of scotch. He’d never felt ready to move to­ward in­de­pen­dence be­fore— un­til now.

“This is it,” Basile told his fa­ther, sis­ter and girl­friend dur­ing a fi­nal tour of the apart­ment build­ing.

The next day, his girl­friend asked if he had time to talk.

In tears, she told him that the re­la­tion- ship was over. She adored him, but the com­pli­ca­tions of his in­jury were just too great, she said. She’d wanted him to know be­fore he made any de­ci­sions or signed a lease.

Basile was heart­bro­ken, though not en­tirely sur­prised. She had voiced cer­tain con­cerns be­fore— about the things Basile couldn’t do, the places he wouldn’t be able to go. Basile had be­gun to brace him­self.

Af­ter she was gone, he missed her. Even more, he missed the abil­ity to grieve as deeply as he knew he needed to, his sor­row numbed by med­i­ca­tion. “I wish I could have a good cry,” Basile said. “It’s been so long.”

His fa­ther was no longer con­vinced it was the right time for him to move out. John Basile urged his son to wait.

But his girl­friend wasn’t the only rea­son Basile wanted to leave. He’d once hoped to be free of his wheel­chair by the time he lived on his own. But he knew by now that for­ward move­ment couldn’t de­pend on the abil­ity to walk. Basile took three days to de­lib­er­ate. “It’s time to go,” he told his dad.

‘You’re beat­ing it’

Basile told Hu­velle about the move dur­ing a visit in Fe­bru­ary. He also told her — quickly, with a pained wince — about the breakup.

The judge’s ex­pres­sion im­me­di­ately soft­ened.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” she said. “Oh. That’s too bad.”

Basile shrugged. “So, that was . . .” he trailed off.

“Right,” she said, know­ing what he meant. “I’m sure.”

The two sat in the liv­ing room of her apart­ment, bathed in late af­ter­noon sun­light. Out­side the court­room, Hu­velle still main­tained a cer­tain ju­di­cial poise and au­thor­ity, her ex­pres­sion stoic, her red­dish hair cut short. She had walked— a halt­ing stride, with­out a walker— to the front door to greet Basile, his aide and a vis­it­ing re­porter. Now she sat in her wheel­chair, tap­ping her foot against the wood floor.

Even this mun­dane re­flex wasn’t lost on Basile: “You don’t hear many sto­ries with this amaz­ing­ness,” he said, lift­ing his wrist to ges­ture to­ward her feet.

Basile and Hu­velle had com­mis­er­ated about their shared ex­pe­ri­ences — the eerie co­in­ci­dence of hav­ing two of the same dam­aged ver­te­brae, the mis­ery of to­tal im­mo­bil­ity in a hos­pi­tal bed. But as they sat to­gether, the vast dif­fer­ences of their cir­cum­stances were also ap­par­ent.

“I have aways to go, es­pe­cially with the func­tion­al­ity of my hands,” she said. “I can’t write. I can walk unas­sisted, but mainly in­side.”

Still, she con­sid­ers her­self very lucky, not only be­cause the in­jury wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but also be­cause of its tim­ing. “I was hurt when a good deal of my life was be­hind me,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about ‘Am I go­ing to find a job, or am I go­ing to have kids, am I go­ing to live here or there ’. . . a lot of my life’s road is not ahead of me.”

She was still work­ing hard to re­claim as much of her body as pos­si­ble, with re­hab ther­apy ses­sions sev­eral times per week.

“There’s this no­tion of one to three years, and af­ter that you’re not get­ting much bet­ter,” she said. “In some ways, it mo­ti­vated me to think I could beat it. I’m not sure I can beat it, but—”

“You’re beat­ing it,” Basile in­ter­rupted, his voice firm. “You’re beat­ing it.”

Hu­velle shook her head. “Josh is very gen­er­ous, re­ally,” she said. “I can imag­ine other peo­ple not be­ing so in­ter­ested in other peo­ple’s func­tion­al­ity, es­pe­cially if it’s bet­ter than theirs.”

She turned to him. “But you take such joy in see­ing other peo­ple get bet­ter.”

When the visit ended, Basile paused at the door. “I don’t want to make you get out of your chair,” he said, “but I’d love a hug.”

“Any­thing for you, Josh,” Hu­velle said. She wheeled to­ward him, then rose to her feet, drap­ing an arm over his shoul­ders as she kissed his fore­head.

“You’ll find another good per­son,” she said softly. “I know you will.”

Basile smiled. “Thanks, Judge.”

A life re­sumed

At the Po­tomac house, wheeled me­tal shelves were packed full with sup­plies and be­long­ings — tow­els, la­tex gloves, catheters, gauze pads, sprays, oint­ments, pa­per tow­els. There were dog treats and a plush bed for Stella, Basile’s de­voted papil­lon, and a dec­o­ra­tive wooden sign: “Some suc­ceed be­cause they’re des­tined to. Most suc­ceed be­cause they’re de­ter­mined to.”

Jose Lopez, one of Basile’s three care­tak­ers, helped him sort through piles of clothes. They found a sev­enth-grade soc­cer jersey and a Skid­more Col­lege ten­nis team shirt; ves­tiges from another life. Basile kept them.

Since the ac­ci­dent, Basile had been ter­ri­fied by change. He’d started hav­ing rest­less dreams about mov­ing, about try­ing to make all his be­long­ings fit in such a small space. He’d never been so si­mul­ta­ne­ously scared and ex­cited, he said.

Basile’s bed­room in Po­tomac would re­main as it was, his fa­ther had de­cided, ready for his son any­time he came back. But time would prove that Basile didn’t need this safety net. He was ready.

The day be­fore the move, Basile vis­ited the judge in her cham­bers as she took a break from her first trial since her fall.

“Look at you!” he cried, as Hu­velle walked out of her of­fice, her long, dark robes cas­cad­ing to her an­kles. She smiled and raised her arms to strike a pose.

The visit was cut short when the judge was sum­moned back to the court­room. The trial, a work­place ha­rass­ment case, was near­ing its con­clu­sion.

“You’re stay­ing or go­ing?” Hu­velle asked Basile.

“Stay­ing!” he said. “I want to see you in ac­tion.”

In the high-ceilinged court­room, Basile sat near the back door as the de­fense called its fi­nal wit­nesses. Be­hind the bench, Hu­velle was her typ­i­cal im­pas­sive pres­ence.

“Back to busi­ness as usual,” Basile mur­mured, pleased.

Hu­velle rested her chin on her palm as the at­tor­ney ques­tioned his client. She­was mostly quiet, pip­ing up oc­ca­sion­ally when the at­tor­neys started to squab­ble—“Wait a minute, don’t talk over each other,” she scolded. She of­fered oc­ca­sional dry com­men­tary — “I al­ways find these ex­am­ples to be rather stupid” — as she re­cited the req­ui­site in­struc­tions to the jury.

There was noth­ing par­tic­u­larly spe­cial about any of it, which was pre­cisely what made it spe­cial, Basile knew. Of the dozen peo­ple sit­ting in the court­room, he was the only one who could fully ap­pre­ci­ate the quiet vic­tory of nor­malcy, the mean­ing of a life re­sumed.

The court re­cessed for lunch. Basile watched as the judge rose, slightly un­steadily, turned, and — slowly, me­thod­i­cally, mirac­u­lously — walked away from the bench.

Basile grinned. Then he tremu­lously raised his curled fin­gers to the joy­stick of his wheel­chair, and the ma­chine swiveled with a quiet whine, car­ry­ing him down the hall­way, out of the court­house and to­ward his own next step.

Video and photo gallery

Go to­a­lyzed to see a video and more photos of Josh Basile and his mis­sion to help oth­ers.

A 2004 ac­ci­dent left Josh Basile with no sen­sa­tion be­low his chest. Help­ing oth­ers with spinal in­juries be­came his mis­sion. At top, Basile uses a joy­stick on his wheel­chair.

Josh Basile meets with his men­tor, U.S. Dis­trict Judge El­lenHu­velle, at her cham­bers in­Wash­ing­ton, where he worked as an in­tern more than four years ago. Last year, she fell and in­jured her spine in al­most the ex­act same place as Basile. He was de­ter­mined to help her as she re­cov­ered.

Basile en­joys a ten­der mo­ment with his then-girl­friend at a party in Bethesda, Md., to mark the 10-year an­niver­sary of his in­jury and to celebrate a decade’s worth of hope and heal­ing.

Josh Basile and his fa­ther, John Basile, stroll through their neigh­bor­hood in Po­tomac, Md. Af­ter Josh’s in­jury, the two were insep­a­ra­ble. “He’smy best friend,” Josh of­ten says of his fa­ther.

Basile takes a sail­ing les­son at Bal­ti­more’s In­nerHar­bor. He has learned to sa­vor mo­ments like these.


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