Florida Politics

A spinal injury should have paralyzed him. But this lawmaker is fighting back

Broward County Judge Kal Evans administers the oath of office to newly reelected Democratic state Reps. Shevrin Jones, left, of West Park, and Jared Moskowitz, of Coral Springs, on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. Jones and Moskowitz received excused absences from the Legislature’s organizational session in Tallahassee on Tuesday.
Broward County Judge Kal Evans administers the oath of office to newly reelected Democratic state Reps. Shevrin Jones, left, of West Park, and Jared Moskowitz, of Coral Springs, on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. Jones and Moskowitz received excused absences from the Legislature’s organizational session in Tallahassee on Tuesday. Gregory Reed Photography

In early October, Shevrin Jones abruptly lost the ability to walk.

The affable 33-year-old state representative from Broward County ruptured part of his lower spinal cord during an accident at the gym, causing a nerve injury that his doctors told him should have left him paralyzed.

After emergency surgery, a follow-up procedure and rigorous physical therapy, Jones walked again far sooner than expected — seven weeks later, he walks now with assistance only from a cane.

“I thought there was a point I’d never walk again,” Jones said. “Through my faith, my determination and by the grace of God, I’m much better.”

Strength? You don’t know strength until strength and willpower is all you have to lean on. Strength in mind. Strength in spirit. And strength in enduring pain. But there is one thing I truly believe, and that is that God gives his toughest test to his strongest people. I believe I am strong enough to handle this journey. So, I stand firm knowing that ‘this too shall pass...’

State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park,

Jones is still recuperating, not yet cleared by his surgeon to travel. Reluctantly, he had to miss the Legislature’s organizational session on Tuesday for the 2016-18 term. It will be his third in the Florida House representing West Park and surrounding areas that stretch from parts of Miramar and Pembroke Pines to Hollywood and Hallandale Beach.

But Jones — known for his passionate and infectiously friendly personality — is determined to return to his legislative duties as soon as possible, so much so that his friends in the Legislature have to remind him to focus on recovery first.

“I’m like, ‘Shev, just rest,’ ” laughed state Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, who said Jones is still “constantly thinking” about his work waiting for him in Tallahassee.

DuBose describes Jones as “like a brother” to him and calls Jones’ recovery “his miracle.”

“This is a true testament and example of where the mind can overcome what’s physical. They told him he wouldn’t walk; he walked in, like, seven days,” DuBose said. “I don’t know any other way to put it than Shev is a fighter.”

Unlike most other lawmakers, Jones didn’t have to stress over his own re-election in November. He easily secured that in June when no one filed to run against him.

So Jones turned his efforts this fall to helping other Democratic candidates, namely through get-out-the-vote efforts and campaigning as a local surrogate for Hillary Clinton. But after his injury on Oct. 4, his hectic daily schedule was put on pause.

In an act of raw vulnerability that’s rare for a public official, Jones opted not to keep his battle private.

He has chronicled his journey publicly — sharing every emotion, every victory and every setback with thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram. He posts each update with the hashtag #ShevGettingBetterEVERYDAY.

“I just felt the need to do it,” Jones said. “So often, we post on our social media our high moments — where we’re recognized, the awards and the accolades — but very seldom do we share our bad experiences. I needed the encouragement and the prayers.”

He was hoping his testimony would inspire other people. How selfless is that to open yourself up when you’re definitely in your valley and in your most difficult times?

State Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale

“It was very depressing for me at the beginning,” Jones continued, “because something you were able to do by yourself, now you have to be assisted in doing that. … It was bathing. It was everything. To have to go through that was a very humbling experience for me.”

A week after his injury, Jones was ushered into emergency spinal surgery. The following day was his 33rd birthday.

“I am in a lot of pain, but I am determined to get up and walk today,” Jones wrote on Facebook. “My biggest birthday gift to myself today, is to try and walk again.”

And walk he did.

Surrounded by family members who streamed live video on his Facebook page, Jones — still dressed in his mint-green hospital gown — took each challenging step while breathing slowly and deeply and, at times, wincing through pain. The 15-minute video has been viewed more than 5,700 times.

Several of his legislative colleagues, including Miami Beach Democratic Rep. David Richardson, have visited Jones since his injury — and they’re in awe at his progress.

“I think what’s remarkable about it is that he’s helped himself by talking to himself in a very positive way, through his Facebook posts,” Richardson said. “Sometimes as an elected official, we don’t want to be photographed when we’re not at our best, and so I applaud him for his willingness to put himself out there in public.”

DuBose said: “He was hoping his testimony would inspire other people. How selfless is that to open yourself up when you’re definitely in your valley and in your most difficult times?”

On Election Day, Jones was discharged from the hospital and went to a nearby rehabilitation center in Hollywood to continue intensive physical therapy. On Nov. 14 — five weeks after his surgery — he was able to walk for the first time without the aid of a walker.

The day after his first night back home on Nov. 17, Jones posted on Facebook: “Just before I went to bed last night, I saw my walker and wheelchair that the doctor(s) told me I would be bound to for a very long time, one doctor even said ‘maybe for the rest of your life.’ As I stared at both of these devices, I could do nothing but sit on the couch, bow my head and thank God for being so good to me.”

Yesterday, in therapy I got so frustrated to the point where I sat down and I began crying. Not because I was in pain, but because something I used to could do without any help, was nearly impossible for me to do.

Jones

Jones — the son of a pastor who is also West Park’s longtime mayor, Eric Jones Jr. — credits his steadfast faith for driving his speedy recovery.

“I never stopped. I pray every day,” he said. “I continued to believe in my faith and my determination that I would walk.”

Instead of being sworn in Tuesday with 119 of his colleagues on the Florida House floor seven hours from home in Tallahassee, Jones took his oath of office Sunday alongside just one fellow lawmaker in the familiar surroundings of his church. (With his wife 38 weeks’ pregnant, Coral Springs Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz also received an excused absence from the organizational session and shared the ceremonial moment with Jones.)

New Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said in a statement: “I know the entire House wishes Rep. Jones a speedy recovery. We will all be praying for him and truly look forward to having such an outgoing, thoughtful consensus-builder back in the chamber.”

Jones said he’s appreciative of his fellow lawmakers’ support.

“I know for a fact that I’m loved in Tallahassee, and I appreciate that,” he said. “It lets me know when you come from a very pure place, you can set politics aside and recognize we’re all human.”

After Jones’ swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, he attended church services — and danced.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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