Chiropractor overcomes paralysis to build new practice in San Juan Capistrano
By Jim Shilander
Sometimes, what gets lost in an instant takes a lot longer to get back. Perhaps no one in south Orange County knows that better than Boris Del Cid.
After breaking his back seven years ago, Del Cid has partnered with his former physical therapist, the man who helped him regain a measure of his independence, to open a chiropractic care center in San Juan Capistrano.
Apex Chiropractic and SCI Wellness Center specializes in treating the kind of spinal chord injuries that Del Cid himself suffered. Technology has allowed him to practice in ways he couldn’t have imagined during those six months he spent in the hospital, wanting to find a way to get back to the life he’d known.
Del Cid has lived in San Clemente with his wife Jill for the last 14 years. He came to the United States from Panama in 1990, at age 18, to study law. After discovering chiropractic, he switched from law and built a successful career in the field.
But on Valentine’s Day 2006, his life changed.
“That was my second birth,” Del Cid says.
Del Cid was riding his motorcycle near the Tustin Marketplace. After a traffic light turned green, he made a left turn, while a car at the opposite side of the intersection turned right—heading the same direction as Del Cid. The driver then changed lanes, into his path.
“I hit her in the rear bumper and catapulted over the car,” Del Cid said. “I broke my back at the T3 and T4 vertebrae. I should have died. In fact, I did expire at the hospital for about 16 seconds.”
The chiropractor is paralyzed from his chest down and he still has a steel rod in his femur.
Del Cid appreciates the irony—the chiropractor with a broken back.
“I ponder that all the time. It’s comical, laughable. All I can think about is what’s going through their (his patient’s) mind,” Del Cid said.
He said he realized the severity of the injury right after the accident, lying in the street, when he couldn’t feel his legs at all.
“I do remember, vividly, making my peace with God. I said, ‘If you want to take me, I’m ready to go now. I want to go, because I don’t want to live like this.’ I was there, literally, waiting to die. That happened within the first couple of days of being there,” he said.
After contracting pneumonia at the hospital, Del Cid suffered respiratory failure and needed to be intubated to get air into his lungs.
“The experience of dying was terrifying, the actual physical feeling of not having air. After that, I woke up. From there on, I really didn’t have a fear of dying. I was just thankful to be alive. I didn’t die because of a reason. I’m very spiritual, so I’m going to say that God didn’t want me to die.”
While the driver’s insurance covered his hospitalization, Del Cid said the community, his friends and neighbors in San Clemente, rallied around he and his wife. They raised over $50,000 at a fundraiser, along with helping his family try to regain some normalcy.
“I owe so many people,” Del Cid said.
Jill Del Cid said she didn’t comprehend the severity of her husband’s injuries and the accident until she arrived at the hospital.
“I was at work when I got the call,” she said. “I thought I’d just have to pick up Boris and see about his bike. When I got to the hospital, they immediately let me know that he would never walk again.”
Initially, she said, she planned on working through these changes herself.
“I didn’t think I needed any help,” she said. “But people would come to the hospital, the neighbors held a barbecue for him, they did the fundraiser. They would walk our pets and prepare meals for me.”
Jill said she had to work much harder to make up for the lost income. She’d encouraged her husband to find work, but knew he wanted to return to chiropractic care.
“Everything worked out perfect,” she said.
Del Cid said he understood the sacrifices his wife has made since his accident, especially after a neighbor had told them to prepare for potential bankruptcy due to the loss of income.
“She’s a hero, she’s everything,” he said.
After leaving the hospital, Del Cid said he was unsure what he was going to be able to do. He still had the desire to be a chiropractor.
“All the other skills, diagnostic skills, observation, anything that requires your brain to do, I can still do,” he said.
About a month after he left the hospital, Del Cid’s motorcycle mechanic gave him a call. The mechanic was a former patient and an amateur boxer.
“When he heard I’d gotten out of the hospital he called me up. He asked me how I was doing. He asked me ‘could I come visit you? I want you to check my neck.’ I was going ‘What?'” said Del Cid.
The mechanic had boxed the night before and thought his neck may have been out of alignment. “I was like, ‘Dude, I’m a month out of the hospital. I can’t walk.'”
The mechanic was undeterred. Before he arrived, Del Cid said he worked out a way to use the limited mobility he had to do what he could while seated, adjusting the neck.
“Exactly how I was going to do it, I didn’t know. But I told myself I was going to try,” he remembered.
When his friend arrived, Del Cid said the skills he’d learned with his hands had clearly not left him. He was able to make the adjustment. When he realized he could still do that work, he said, it was a major relief. But there was still self-doubt to overcome.
“I was just coming out of the hospital, I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. Who’s going to want to get adjusted by me? I can’t even move.”
But the precedent had been set, he said.
And with the encouragement of his wife and friends, he set off on the goal of returning to work. While he did rehabilitation at the Project Walk rehabilitation center in Carlsbad, he continued to perform adjustments on friends and neighbors and kept up his chiropractic license by attending continuing education classes.
Jeremy Sontag was the physical therapist who worked with Del Cid at Project Walk. The two became good friends as they worked to give Del Cid back a measure of independence. One day, when Sontag complained about back pain, Del Cid recommended a colleague in Encinitas. After that visit, Sontag told Del Cid he wanted to become a chiropractor himself. Del Cid made him a promise.
“I told him, when you’re done with chiropractic school, if you want to practice, call me up and let’s see if we can get something going,” Del Cid said. However, Del Cid explained that he didn’t necessarily hold Sontag to that. Since schooling can take up to four years, Del Cid said he figured Sontag would likely prefer to work with a fellow student or someone else.
But Sontag said he never had any desire to go into business with anyone else. The two communicated regularly while Sontag was in school, and when graduation approached, the two began to talk seriously about going into business together.
“He’s always had a great outlook,” Sontag said. “He’s always had a passion for helping people.”
While some of his classmates might have been able to do more physically, Sontag said Del Cid’s experience helping to build a practice and goodwill in the community was something that wasn’t taught in school.
“He always had the intention of getting back into practice, it was just a matter of how he was going to do that,” Sontag said.
On the advice of a friend, Del Cid discovered a special instrument that allows him to adjust regions of the spine that wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. The machine uses sound waves to find out if an area is out of alignment, and then can be used to perform the adjustment as well. The adjustment table is itself on a hydraulic lift that allows Del Cid to put his wheelchair underneath it.
In addition to his new business, Del Cid is active in helping others who’ve suffered similar injuries. He’s partnered with others on a social networking site for those who’ve suffered spinal chord injuries, www.pushrim.com, and does a regular podcast that discusses living with spinal chord injuries.