David’s underwater therapy program helps hundreds of people with special needs
When a brain tumor left his son paralyzed, avid scuba diver David Lawrence dove right in and created an underwater physical therapy program that helped his son—and hundreds of other people with special needs. But he quickly discovered that the joy in helping others was the most healing part of all
David and Kim Lawrence sat beside their 11-yearold son’s hospital bed, their hearts flooding with a mix of joy and sorrow.
The Winter Garden, Florida, couple thanked God that doctors had been able to remove the tumor from David Jr.’s brain. But the surgery had left their little boy paralyzed from the neck down. And doctors couldn’t say if he would ever regain use of his arms and legs.
Gazing up at his parents, David Jr.’s face was clouded with sadness and fear.
“I don’t want to be in a wheelchair for my whole life,” he stammered, his eyes full of tears.
“I know, buddy,” his father choked. “And I promise, I’ll give it everything I’ve got, every day of my life, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“Love cures people—both the ones who give it and the ones who it.” receive — KARL A. MENNINGER
An amazing idea
From that moment on, helping his son walk again became David Sr.’s sole focus. He was at David Jr.’s side, offering encouragement, as he began intensive rehabilitation. Hearing his dad say, “You can do this!” helped the boy push through the pain and exhaustion. And after a year and a half, he’d miraculously regained use of the right side of his body.
Though thrilled with his progress, David Sr. was determined to help his son get back to 100%. And that summer during a scuba diving trip, David Sr. was struck with an idea that changed everything.
He realized that on land, with the pull of gravity, David Jr.’s left arm and leg were as heavy as lead. But under water, they’d be as light as feathers.
“If I work with him under water, maybe we can stimulate the areas of his brain that control movement,” David Sr. excitedly told Kim. “It’s worth a try!”
David Sr., a certified scuba diver with many years of experience, began taking his son to a pool, where they strapped on a tank and mask. After they were submerged, David Sr. would exercise his son’s limbs.
And just as he’d hoped and prayed, in time, David Jr. began to move on his own. Soon, he was even feeling sensations in his left side and able to grasp objects with his left hand. It’s working! they marveled. If scuba therapy could work for his son, maybe it could help other people with disabilities, David Sr. thought. So in 2009, he opened The Scuba Gym, where, for a minimal fee, he has helped hundreds of people make amazing strides.
Suffering from hypotonia, a condition characterized by poor muscle tone, 17-year-old Tyler Barnes was too weak to carry a bag of groceries. But within six months of starting scuba therapy, Tyler was able to hoist his 35-pound scuba tank on his own. And with each session, he grew stronger.
People with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and Down syndrome have improved their muscle strength and coordination. And the quiet calm that students experience under water has helped people with autism cope with the stimuli they encounter in everyday life.
The program has even helped several wheelchairbound participants—including David Jr.!—to walk again.
Today, along with attending college, 22-year-old David Jr. is fully recovered and an instructor at The Scuba Gym. “It’s a blessing to help others change their lives.” David Sr. echoes his son. “I am so thankful for my son’s recovery, but because of what he went through, we are now able to help so many others,” says David Sr. “I am truly humbled, it’s a blessing!”
“When we stay hopeful and push our limits, amazing things happen,” says David Sr., with his scuba students.
A team of volunteers help the two Davids, center, work scuba therapy miracles!