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Former UMHB football player recovers after accident at Belton Lake leaves him paralyzed

Posted at 8:33 PM, Mar 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-16 06:21:05-04

TEMPLE, TX — Edwin Munoz's life has always been about being active.

He even played football at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor. From 2010 to 2013, he was the team's kicker.

"The program is all about guys giving a great deal of effort and sacrifice and certainly, he is one of those guys who just gave us so much," said Pete Fredenburg, head football coach at UMHB.

"He was a great player. I mean, he was a special teams kicker, and he worked hard every day to improve his skills in what he was doing," shared LiDarral Bailey, Munoz's friend and former teammate.

"That was my full-time job in undergrad. So that's what took up the entire time of when I was in undergrad. A lot of traveling, a lot of hard work went into the four conference championships that we won," shared Munoz.

As an exercise physiologist and personal trainer with a heart for taking care of others, Munoz's life seemed to be going in the right direction.

"I was a strength conditioning coach at Oppose Gravity Performance," said Munoz.

When he was not working, one of his favorite things to do was to visit Belton Lake.

"We went to the lake like we've done a million times," shared Cole Dominguez, Edwin Munoz's friend.

That visit to Belton Lake in September of 2018 sent Munoz to the hospital.

"We went out swimming at a local Arrow Head Park where we had been going for years, and the water was low," said Munoz. "I dove in and hit my head on a rock."

"When I pulled him up, he was breathing. But you could just immediately tell, you know, he's unresponsive and I knew something was wrong," shared his friend Cole Dominguez.

Munoz had fractured his cervical spine.

"I was paralyzed from the chest down," said Munoz.

"I didn't actually get to see him until he had just gotten out of surgery," said Mikala Schooler, Edwin Munoz's girlfriend. "You know, when you get out of surgery, he had the breathing tube down his throat and he was totally unconscious. His tongue was hanging out because the breathing tube, you know. So it was traumatic seeing him that way."

"Basically he had a second stabilizing surgery. When he initially came in, he had a decompression of his spinal chord and that was done in Temple," said Kimball Pratt, MD neurosurgeon at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center Hillcrest. "He came up here to the rehabilitation unit. Then after he was mobilized, it became apparent that he needed some additional surgery from behind where we put screws and rods and additional bone craft in."

After spending several months hospitalized, Munoz's life is all about recovery now.

"You wake up, you have breakfast and then it's like a job. So therapy starts as soon as you wake up. The process of getting dressed, even eating, brushing your teeth," said Munoz.

Munoz is already making progress.

"I've been able to increase movement in my legs, as well as hand functioning as well," said Munoz.

"When he came in, he had what's termed a complete spinal chord injury, so he had no function below the level of his injury. He actually improved to the point that he had some function, or an incomplete spinal chord injury, where he had some function," said Pratt, MD.

"He's made incredible gains really since I started seeing him," said Dominic Salazar, physical therapist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center Temple. "New things are moving. His balance is improving. His transfers are improving, just his abilities as a new quadriplegic,"

Munoz is confident one day he will get back on his feet.

"I don't doubt for one minute that I will walk again, for one minute. I don't ever doubt it. But I know it's going to be a lot of hard work, which I'm not afraid of. I take it as a challenge. I'm ready for it. It's my new job," said Munoz.

Munoz's loved ones started a website to document his journey, and a GoFundMe has also been created to raise money for his medical expenses.

The EdStrong Golf Tournament benefit that was held on April 22 at Wildflower Country Club in Temple was to help pay for his medical bills.

At the tournament, friends, family and local sponsors racked up at least $10,000 to go toward Munoz's medical bills.

"Realizing that you're so blessed. Having, you know, hometown friends and college friends come out. Just knowing what a true blessing it is to have the amount of support that I've had," said Munoz.

A little over a month later, Munoz had the chance to build his skills at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston during inpatient rehabilitation that lasted around 5 weeks.

"And by the time he left the hospital -- the great spirits, the motivation, the know how -- all of that was there. But I think the biggest difference is that now, he felt that he could do so many more things on his own," said Dr. Isaac Hernandez Jimenez, staff physician at TIRR Memorial Hermann/UTHealth.

For the first time since his injury, Munoz can do basic activities without assistance.

"I can get dressed independently. I can do all my morning routine like brushing teeth and combing hair if I have to," said Munoz.

At one point, Munoz's medical bills had surpassed $1 million.

The family said that although they continue to pay for additional needs, they have been able to get most of his medical bills written off.

On Sept. 19, Munoz participated in Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest's 2nd Annual Rehab Patient Reunion where the hospital took the time to honor patients like Munoz and patients got the chance to share their success stories.

"Officially stood up by myself. I knew I had some quad movement and some quad strengthening going on, so I finally went for it and I can stand up by myself officially," said Munoz.

On Oct. 15, Munoz was honored at the Rusty Awards in Bell County. He received the most nominations out of all awardees and took home the John Garth Person of the Year Award.

"The reason why is because when he received his injury, sure it was challenging and he had some difficulties," said Peggy Cosner, chair for the Bell County Judge & Commissioners' Committee on People with Disabilities. "But in such a short period of time this young man has been positive and that can do attitude and not let what he's not able to do keep him down."

The annual event honors heroes in the community who have made positive impacts in Bell County.

"it's humbling to say the least you know to be able to be honored. We've had so much support from the community and to be able to get an honor like this is just it feels amazing," said Munoz.