AYER - "You take so many things for granted."
Doug Becker of Ayer wants to share his cautionary tale about how his life changed in seconds.
Becker, 53, is a founding member of the Ayer Public Access Corporation and is one if it's directors. On Veterans Day last November, his life took an abrupt tumble.
While walking down the stairs from his second floor office to the first floor of his Pleasant Street house, Becker caught his foot on the banister corner post. Becker tripped on the third tread from the top step and tumbled the length of the staircase.
"I wasn't tired. I didn't faint - nothing," said Becker. "It was just me being in too much of a hurry and being too comfortable with the stairs."
"Instead of falling backwards, I fell forwards," said Becker. "There was a hand railing on one side but it wasn't anyplace I could reach. There I was trying to grab onto something to stop me."
"It seemed like the whole thing happened in slow motion," said Becker. "I just surfed down the stairs on my stomach. At the bottom, my left hand went out. The momentum caused me to do a somersault. I ended up against the front door, about eight feet from the bottom of the stairs."
The force shook the house, setting off the basement smoke detectors, which set off the rest of the hard-wired alarms in the house. It was about 9:15 p.m.
The stairs in the house, constructed in 1932, have a slightly shorter tread than today's standards. "We're constantly warning people about it," said Becker. But for Becker, he'd had no issue before with the stairs in the house he'd owned for years.
The entire family happened to be standing at the foot of the stairs when Becker fell: wife Kim, 20-year old son Ricky, and 18-year old daughter Ellie. Ricky lifted his father off the floor and placed him on a bed already set up in the living room. Becker said he immediately knew there was a problem.
"When I sat up I couldn't hold my head up straight," said Becker.
Becker choked up recalling the response of the Ayer Ambulance, Fire and Police officers who flooded his home to help and the order given out by Ayer Fire Capt. Timothy Johnston.
"Get that backboard out and tape him on it," Becker recalled Johnston saying. Becker choked up, recalling how the responders were the same officials he'd come to know over his decade as a Boy Scout leader visiting the fire station for weekly troop meetings.
"It was really weird that they were at my house to help me," said Becker, whose voice cracked. "It was kind of humbling. As far as fire, police and EMTs, frankly the Ayer first responders are the best in the area, hands down."
Following an overnight stay at UMASS Worcester, Becker was sent home with advice to wear a collar and return when the swelling receded. "At the time I thought 'OK I'll be alright," said Becker.
But the night before Thanksgiving, painkillers weren't touching his pain. "My wife said 'I'm taking you back there' and she put me in the car," said Becker.
X-rays at UMASS Worcester revealed that, though his spinal cord was intact, Becker's spine was dislocated with two vertebrae out of position. "The misalignment from one to the next was pretty extreme and it pinched my whole spinal cord," said Becker.
Surgeon Jason Eck operated on Thanksgiving morning, and Becker's neck was fused with two titanium rods and eight screws. Five days later, Becker entered Fairlawn Rehabilitation in Worcester for eight days of intense therapy.
"That was the highlight of my recovery because I went in as basically a lump on a bed and I came out walking," said Becker. "They're total professionals. I think the world of them. They pushed me to do things that I didn't want to do but they had a really, really good idea of what I was going through."
Three months out from the November accident, Becker said we take a lot for granted. "You can't even begin to imagine. There were a lot of patients at Fairlawn who were also seriously injured who were really struggling to get out of there and get back to their lives. Some were not making any progress. And there I was, in and out in a week."
Becker is touched by the outpouring of support sent his way. "The Ayer Shirley Education Foundation had a collection jar at their Lip Sync show on Dec. 1. Harry Zane and Marty Poutry collected donations for us through 'The Becker Family Benefit Fund," said Becker. "Many friends brought us meals. Joey Debassio has been clearing snow from our driveway and sidewalks."
"We as a family are very appreciative and humbled by the support we have received from our friends and neighbors in the Town of Ayer and elsewhere," said Becker.
Becker was also thankful for his wife, Kim, who was also caring for her father and her mother. "She'd do the daily rounds and visit all of us," said Becker. "And the kids all stepped up and helped around the house. We're proud of them."
The rehabilitation continues at home and at physical therapy sessions. Becker raised his left arm over his head on Feb. 5 - a feat he could not perform since before the accident.
On Feb. 1, Becker visited Ayer-Shirley High School "just to check in" and watch the crew cablecast the Ayer-Shirley versus Bromfield varsity basketball games. (The Ayer-Shirley boys won, while the Bromfield girls were victorious in their face-off).
Becker said he's getting back into commission meetings, too, "To show people I'm still around. People wanted to know what had happened because I had my brace on."
"I tell them 'I'm a lucky guy," said Becker. "This could have been a lot worse. It just takes a split second..."
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.