They are first on the scene and often taken for granted. The work they do is invaluable. Today we honor America’s first responders, the men and women first on the scene of our worst days.
PVA Minnesota Chapter member Jeff Edwards is one such hero. After serving in the U.S. Army National Guard, he left active duty to serve as a West-central Minnesota deputy sheriff and volunteer firefighter.
And then he had a crazy accident, the story of which has been told countless times, and it is always described as unusual, or freaky, or bizarre. While the accident itself was weird, the events just after it are something right out of a sitcom. But they also demonstrate just how important first responders are.
Jeff was on vacation with friends in Ixtapa, Mexico, swimming in the ocean. A huge wave came up that was so powerful it rolled Jeff as it receded, causing him to hit his head on the ocean floor. He was instantly paralyzed. He knew he was in trouble and called for his friends on the shore, who at first thought Jeff was just messing around.
And then the real adventure began. Emergency workers put him on a backboard with no straps, so during the ambulance ride he was sliding off the board when he shouldn’t have been. He was taken to a place which Jeff describes as a “daycare, an automotive shop, and a chiropractor’s office” all in one, where he received x-rays.
But they didn’t x-ray all of his spine, causing them to miss the fact that his C7 was snapped. He also knew that he wasn’t being handled properly because they were moving his head and jostling him around. “One of my good friends was there, who is a doctor. We were all firefighters and first responders, so we know how to handle neck injuries – and this wasn’t right.”

In order to get back to the States, Jeff’s friends pooled their money to come up with $30,000 for the air ambulance. Once back in the U.S., Jeff began to panic about his future – until PVA helped him find a job.

“Paralyzed Veterans of America’s employment program, PAVE has done a lot for me. My biggest fear in the hospital was, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to be able to support myself and my family?’ PAVE gives you options,” Jeff says. “They’ve gotten me jobs that pay well, and that I can do from home.”
Jeff now works the second shift monitoring computer systems. Once he accepted his new normal – with the support of his longtime girlfriend and two kids – life began to open up again.

Today we honor the professional care that our first responders like Jeff give, and the selfless sacrifices they make each day as they put their lives on the line for the better of humanity.