Porter Strong: Felton man, making his own recovery, wants to inspire others to walk again

Eric Porter works out in the University of Delaware’s Star Health program three days a week for an hour daily. (Submitted photos/Porter family)

FELTON – Eric Porter vividly remembers the grim prognosis.

“Listen buddy, do not expect to walk again.”

That was a doctor’s early warning about his fractured spinal cord, the result of an April 29 two-vehicle crash near Frederica.

“I guess he was just statistically speaking,” Mr. Porter said.

The analysis seemed sound from a medical perspective — the injuries included a T-8 spinal cord fracture, four broken ribs and a punctured lung. Two rods with 12 screws were inserted into his back to hold the spine together.

There’s no clinical measure for a person’s spiritual strength, though, especially for an extremely inspired young soul with so much life left to live.

“As a 19-year-old, I’m thinking there’s no way I’m not walking again,” Mr. Porter said.

Now five months removed from the accident, the Felton teen drives himself to college classes and rehabilitation appointments. He uses hand controls to operate his car.

Gripping crutches and supported by ankle braces, the 2016 Lake Forest High School graduate can cover 400 feet in six minutes.

He struggled to make 50 feet not long ago and plans to walk on his own by mid-summer next year at the latest.

Acknowledging that he’s “still a long way from walking perfectly,” Mr. Porter believes it’s all up to him about when that happens.

“Literally this whole thing is mind over matter,” said Mr. Porter.

He estimates he has full strength and mobility in his right leg, which is mostly numb, and 60 percent strength in his left.

“I don’t know if it’s always the case or just me,” he said. “But I truly believe that if you really want something, anything you can go out and do it with enough determination.”

Through the Porter Strong Project, Mr. Porter aims to inspire others in his predicament and raise funds to support the cause of walking again.

Eric Porter is seen outside the site of his first-ever job – the Killens Pond State Park Water Park in Felton. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

He now lives by the motto “Find your purpose. Discover yourself. Climb on.”

“What really fuels me is the climb,” he said. “It may seem like such a simple task to put one foot in front of the other. For some that one step is as hard as one hundred steps for another individual.

“The Porter Strong Project is devoted towards getting those who have lost the ability to walk the opportunity to get up and walk again.”

Fueled by his passion and a natural entrepreneurial streak (he operated his own landscape company prior to the wreck), Mr. Porter designed the Porter Strong Project “climb on” hat that sells for $25.

“Every hat purchased will raise $5 towards individuals fighting every single day, day in and day out,” he said. “The goal is to climb that mountain in front of us and each and every one of us have a task at hand. Some of us don’t know that task, and some see it clear as day.”

The remaining $20 will be invested in building the nonprofit Porter Strong foundation brand that’s still in its infancy, Mr. Porter said. Future project plans include launching a YouTube channel.

“For $25 you’re not just buying a hat, you’re buying their legs, their freedom to move,” said Mr. Porter, who reported early this week that 325 purchase orders had already been placed.
To become involved or request assistance, email PORTERSTRONGPROJECT@outlook.com or call/text (302) 387-3277.

More information is available online at www.facebook.com/porterstrongproject/.

According to Mr. Porter, he and supporters devote time “ to visit rehabs and hospitals to motivate those who are in a ‘valley’.

This spring, former and active Delaware State Police troopers teamed with other community volunteers in a construction project at Eric Porter’s home in Felton. (Submitted photo/Delaware State Police)

“As we all know, you must trek through valleys to conquer mountains.”

Of special interest is good friend Tyler Trego, who suffered his own debilitating injury in a separate accident. He is fighting to regain his mobility.

Through a bracelet campaign inspired by friend Ali Bishop, Mr. Porter said he managed to raise money for Mr. Trego with 400 sales in two days.

“That’s actually when I decided to start the project,” he said. “ I love to make money, but it feels even better to make money and give it to someone who really needs it.

“It really is my passion to give back whether it’s money for those in need, motivation, or even at the end of the day being someone somebody can reach out to.”

The arduous journey from crash to crutches involved a Christiana Hospital stay from April 29 to May 11, followed by time at MossRehab in Pennsylvania.

Eventually, Mr. Porter plans to revisit his passions for hunting and fishing, but there’s too much else to do now.

Currently, he drives to the University of Delaware’s STAR Health clinic three days a week for an hour of physical therapy each session.

Working toward a business management/marketing degree requires two classes at Wilmington University’s Dover campus each week. The last semester was almost complete when the accident forced him to withdraw from school.

Pictured is the 1983 Toyota pick-up Eric Porter was driving when struck by another vehicle on April 29. (Submitted photo/Porter family)

Eventually, Mr. Porter, who was a Future Farmers of America chapter officer for three years in high school and state officer for one, plans to return to his passion for hunting and fishing, but there’s too much else to do now.

“This definitely messes with everything,” he said of the injuries and subsequent recovery process.

About the crash

Thrown from his newly purchased 1983 Toyota pickup truck and trailer, Mr. Porter believed the end was near on April 29.

“I was lying upside down in a ditch and I thought I was going to die,” Mr. Porter said.

The mishap unfolded at the intersection of Barratts Chapel and McGinnis Pond roads at around 3 p.m. Mr. Porter’s vehicle was reportedly struck by a car that pulled into the intersection after failing to remain stopped, according to Delaware State Police investigation. The other driver was cited at the scene by troopers.

He’s not sure, but Mr. Porter believes his truck overturned two or three times before coming to rest on its roof. His Toyota may have been traveling 50 mph at the time of impact on the passenger’s side.

Trying to focus after a momentary blackout, Eric cried out to his passenger friend Hunter Dixon while attempting to stand. When that proved impossible, he dug in his elbows in an effort to move toward the truck before collapsing.

Mr. Dixon, 16 at the time and now a senior at Polytech High School in Woodside, suffered a concussion and needed multiple stitches in his hand. He needed to be removed from the truck by arriving fire personnel before transport to the hospital.

Forever tied together now, the two friends stay in touch and don’t want the event to define their relationship.

Proceeds from the $25 “climb on” hats support the Porter Strong Project. (Submitted photo/Porter family)

“We still talk about the accident but not as much as before because we’re trying to put it behind us,” Mr. Dixon said.

“I definitely don’t take any day for granted,” he said. “You have to grab life and do what you want to do now, you don’t want to wait.”

Community, police respond

Former Delaware State Police trooper William “Billy” Porter reached out to Sgt. Dave Weaver soon after the crash, seeking construction company contacts for home adjustments necessitated by his son’s situation.

Sgt. Weaver, who had a construction contracting background before joining law enforcement, was immediately inspired to gather volunteer support although Mr. Porter had planned to pay for whatever was needed.

With Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association President Joseph Zeroles of Harrington serving as architect, he and Sgt. Weaver created plans that included building two ramps to the home, an additional bathroom with a walk-in shower and conversion of a first floor den into Mr. Porter’s new bedroom.

Sgt. Weaver sent out a list of needs through the Delaware State Police Trooper’s Association and other contacts and received an overwhelming response for a project that was eventually estimated at $60,000 to complete.

Approximately 25 current and retired troopers worked nights and weekends to assist the project. It was completed within a month, before Mr. Porter returned home.

“What they didn’t have in construction knowledge they made up for with muscle and sweat,” Sgt. Weaver said.

Among the lead contributors was Lowes. All six Delaware stores covered the cost of all building materials, supplied the roofing and siding contractors, constructed the ramp off the back deck and built an outdoor retreat for the Porter family. And they provided labor and material for all landscaping needs.

Local concrete companies, framers, plumbers, electricians, HVAC, drywallers, cabinet makers, guttering specialists and more provided their services at no cost.

“It was such a good feeling to know that when Eric came home, he and his family didn’t have to be inconvenienced,” said Sgt. Weaver, who was painting at the home when Mr. Porter arrived and described it as “quite an emotional moment.”

Good friends emerge

The night before the collision, George Moleski remembers watching co-worker Mr. Porter deftly respond to an angry patron at Penske Truck Rental in New Castle County.

“The customer was irate, it was late and it was hot,” Mr. Moleski said. “The guy was annoyed not because of anything Eric did and I watched this kid running all over the place in the heat bending over backward, literally, and doing anything he could to make it right while keeping a stiff upper lip and showing grace under pressure.

“Eric didn’t get tense or irritated and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Here’s a 19-year-old kid with the wisdom and patience to get through a situation like this that I don’t think I could do as a 57-year-old.’”

Soon after the accident, Mr. Moleski began visiting Mr. Porter regularly at the hospital and rehabilitation.

“I just went to visit the kid and felt some connection,” Mr. Moleski said. “I took it to heart and just wanted to let him know that know matter what happens, you have a friend me.
“I’m just thankful that he let me be his friend.”

Mr. Moleski is sure Mr. Porter has a promising future.

“I know it sounds cliche, but there’s something special about this kid,” he said. “I don’t know what’s in store for him down the road, but he’s something special.

“He’s an incredible young man and I’m sure he hasn’t even scratched the surface of what great things he will accomplish.”

Close friend Steven Houston has remained tightly connected through it all and realizes “all it take is a split second” for lives to change drastically.

Mr. Houston hung out with Mr. Porter the night before the crash and was originally scheduled to join him in the truck for the landscaping work before plans changed and he couldn’t make it.

“Eric is the toughest guy I know,” Mr. Houston said. “Normally a person in his situation would get down, but Eric always sees the bright side of things. He is the person who wants to push himself as far as he can so he’s better than before.

“He’s always been that type of person.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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