LA Bike Marathon - March 2, 2008


Joe continues to see improvements each day he goes to therapy. For more information and the most recent progress updates, see Joe’s blog at

Joe Guintu

Ivette Flores

The story of the injury

Joe left for Hawaii on March 9, 2007, with his girlfriend, Ivette, to join his parents for his cousin’s wedding in Honolulu. Ivette and Joe set off on their own after the wedding. On the morning of March 12, they decided to go surfing close to their hotel in Waikiki. It was Joe’s first time surfing while Ivette (being the cool super hip person that she is) had gone a few times before.

That is when Joe suffered a bizarre injury called "surfer's myelopathy". There was no "accident" in the sense of a bad fall or crash. He was simply laying on the surfboard stomach-down look up for waves, paddling and standing up on the board. At his first try at catching a wave, he caught it! Somewhere in that flow of movements, he apparently cut off the blood circulation to his spine by hyper-extending his back doing the normal surfing motions. When he was jumping off the board at the end of the wave, he noticed a sharp pain in his lower back. He assumed this a normal pain incurred during the course of surfing. Since it was his first time surfing, he assumed the pain to be a result of muscles that he had never used before. Joe was wrong. He was actually very good at surfing. He caught his first four waves and stood up - in the first 20 minutes! However, he could not catch any other waves for the rest of their time in the water, a total time of about 60 to 90 minutes. Ivette and Joe were cut and scraped from the rocks in the water; Ivette with a cut on her foot that was almost “stitch-worthy”. Joe actually also had a sea urchin stuck in his foot that ended up coming out 2 months later. They stopped by the lifeguard to whine about the pains of surfing and after his blessing, they limped back to the room. They cleaned their wounds and Joe could not get comfortable, sitting, lying down, standing or whatever. They went to a Mexican restaurant to catch lunch and drink margaritas to make their pains go away.

Unfortunately, Joe’s pain persisted and it was soon after that, he limped into a doctor’s office. Once he heard of Joe’s complaints, the doctor told Joe to lie down immediately and they transported him to the hospital right away in an ambulance. Joe’s parents were about to board their flight back to LA when Joe called them. They immediately rushed to the hospital.

They took an MRI and easily diagnosed Joe’s injury. Before he went into the MRI, his leg strength had already considerably decreased and after the MRI, he had no mobility from his waist down. Joe could feel if someone touched his legs or vibrations were set on his leg, however, they were quite numb and he could not differentiate very well sharpness.

The story of recovery

Joe’s journey started at Straub Hospital in Honolulu where he was stabilized and kept for 5 days. He was then transferred to Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific in Honolulu where he started to learn some practicalities of dealing with being in a wheelchair. This is where he first started his retraining in how to live life while in a wheelchair. He had to relearn everything from how to brush his teeth in a wheelchair to how to even sit up on his own in bed without using most of his core muscles.

Five days later, he was transferred to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado. This is a specialized spinal cord and brain injury hospital. He flew coach with Ivette to LAX where he was greeted by his family and then caught his connecting flight to Denver with Ivette and his mom. During his 2 months at Craig Hospital, Joe went through a rigorous training schedule that usually spanned from 9am to 4pm that was balanced in teaching Joe how to be independent in a wheelchair while also working on Joe’s recovery with therapy sessions. He was discharged May 11 and returned home to Southern California.

There have been a myriad of trials and tribulations throughout the whole process and going home to Southern California was no exception. Joe first celebrated his return home by meeting with family, friends and co-workers. After getting more situated back home, he started therapy again about a month and a half after his return. He has been attending Project Walk, a specialized and aggressive spinal cord injury recovery center in Carlsbad, California (in San Diego county), 100 miles from his house. He started attending Project Walk 3 times per week and then started going to another licensed rehabilitation center, Precision Rehab, in Long Beach, 2 days a week. So his current regiment includes attending rehab 5 days a week with additional activities such as acupuncture and neuromuscular therapy. Joe is doing everything in his power to make sure that he not only walks again, but runs again! He has a pact with Ivette that once he is up and about, they will run a marathon together. He is dedicated and driven. All of the support and prayers so far have been tremendous and much appreciated.

This page will be updated occasionally, but check out Joe’s blog ( for more detailed updates regarding his recovery.

Date Last Edited: November 14, 2007