Man once paralyzed determined to complete 42-km run to give back to hospital

Rob MacDonald was a diagnosed paraplegic four years ago. On Sunday, he and a team will run the 42 km Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon hoping to raise $150,000 for the Toronto Rehab Foundation, which he credits with teaching him to walk again.

'My goal is to cross the finish line,' says Rob MacDonald despite not knowing how long run will take him

After an accident in 2012, Rob MacDonald lost motor function below his waist. He didn't know it then, but doctors had only given him a five per cent chance to walk again. (Submitted by Rob MacDonald)

Running 42 kilometres is a huge feat for most people, but for Robert MacDonald it's especially meaningful because he wasn't able to walk four years ago.

In 2012, MacDonald was paralyzed in Mexico.

"I didn't have access to my room and instead of going back 15 minutes to the hotel lobby to get my key, I looked at the balconies and said 'I can climb that,'" said MacDonald.

It was a decision that would change his life forever. He fell three storeys, landing on the right side of his body.

"I dislocated my spine in two spots and that sent a pinch down my spinal cord and immediately left me with paralysis from the waist down," said MacDonald.

Doctors gave him a 5 per cent chance of walking again

MacDonald was rushed to a Mexican hospital before being airlifted back to Canada. He then underwent neurosurgery at Saint Michael's Hospital in Toronto, spent 10 days in the intensive care unit, another three in the trauma centre and one week in orthopedics before being taken in on stretcher to the Toronto Rehab Foundation.

"They didn't say much," said MacDonald about his team of doctors, when he arrived at the rehabilitation hospital, the largest of its kind in Canada. "They didn't want to be optimistic and they didn't want to be pessimistic because they didn't know what the outcome would be."

Rob MacDonald was a diagnosed paraplegic four years ago. On Sunday, he and a team will run the 42 km Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon hoping to raise $150,000 for the Toronto Rehab Foundation, which he credits with teaching him to walk again. (Submitted by Rob MacDonald)

At 26, MacDonald was diagnosed as an American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale (ASIA) B paraplegic. According to the ASIA scale, a level A rating means that a person has severed his or her spine and will not able to walk again. 

MacDonald's B rating meant that he had no motor function below his waist. He didn't know it then, but doctors had only given him a five per cent chance to walk again.

'I learned how to crawl again'

No one could have anticipated then that four years later, MacDonald would be running his first marathon. 

It would be three months and countless hours of intensive treatment and physiotherapy before MacDonald would be able to leave the hospital. But when he did, he says he was able to do so walking.

"I learned how to crawl again, I learned how to walk again," said MacDonald. "I tripped like a baby would trip, learning how to take their first steps."

Now, MacDonald wants to give back to the hospital he credits for giving him the ability to walk again.

Team's shirts will bear words: 'I Will'

He's created a team of about 120 runners who will hit the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon wearing shirts that say "I Will", MacDonald's motto while in rehab. 

"I think it's really important for people who get a second chance like me to give back," said MacDonald. "Because with science and technology and the way everything is changing, injuries like mine, instead of somebody having a five per cent chance, five years from now they might have a 20 per cent chance [of walking again]."

MacDonald and his team hope to raise $150,000 for the Toronto Rehab Foundation. He says his body is still adjusting and he doesn't know how long the 42-kilometre run will take him.

"My goal is to cross the finish line."