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Paralysis and Photography | Kevin Young’s Road to Recovery

By Pye Jirsa on July 2nd 2014

Meet Kevin Young

Kevin Young is a landscape, architecture and portrait photographer based in the city of San Diego California. In 2011, it was the fourth of July and a beautiful day to be out in the city and the beach. What was supposed to be a relaxing day boating with friends and hanging out on the beach ended up being a life changing event.

In July of 2011, my parents received an alarming phone call from 3,000 miles away. The message was brief and to the point, “I am with your son. He broke his neck, drowned and is paralyzed from the neck down. I need to perform surgery in order to save his life.” On the day that celebrates our country’s fight for freedom, I found myself fighting for my life.

Paralysis and Photography | Kevin Young’s Road to Recovery Video

Music “The Recessional” by A New Normal licensed from –
Music “Thirsty Ground” by One Hundred Years licensed from –

Instant Paralysis

While on the beach, Kevin decided to dive headfirst into the water. When he did, he immediately sensed something was wrong because he wasn’t swimming, but he felt something brushing against his face. When Kevin opened his eyes he saw his arm brushing against his face, and found it strange that his face could register the sense of touch, but his arm could not. Kevin was still face down in the water, unable to move, he tried to roll himself over but nothing in his body would respond to his brain’s commands, and so he drowned.

Putting Yce on it

Eventually Kevin’s friends found him, pulled him out of the water, and tried to (incorrectly) administer CPR. Luckily, a nurse named Yce (pronounced “ice”) happened to be walking by, saw the commotion, pushed everyone aside and brought Kevin’s heart back around. Lifeguards took Kevin back to the mainland and the medics took him to the Scripps Memorial Hospital where Neurosurgeon Dr. Ghosh took great care of Kevin.

Rebuilding What’s Broken

Kevin had broken his C4 and C6 vertabrae and completely shattered his C5 vertabrae, which explained his instant paralysis. In order to repair all the damage, doctors had to do surgery in the front and back of Kevin’s neck, inserting titanium plates, screws, and other elements to help rebuild and support his vertebrae.


After Kevin was released from the hospital, he went to the Sharp Inpatient Rehab Services and Physiotherapy Associates Center. Here Kevin had to relearn basic actions, like swallowing food, or rolling over in bed. After a few months in Rehab, Kevin was able to meet his goal of walking, and he was finally able to go home.


Coming Home, No Rest For the Weary

Coming back home is usually a celebratory and relaxing experience, but for Kevin it proved to be exhausting. Tasks like getting ready in the morning and eating breakfast which would usually take 30 minutes would now take 3 hours. Kevin’s body was using an enormous amount of energy healing internally so he would constantly be tired, napping as much as 3 times a day, leaving him restless at night.

Photography as Therapy

When Kevin couldn’t sleep at night, he went out to shoot Landscapes on the beach. In the midst of all this chaos, photography became a therapy and escape for Kevin.

During those nights where I wasn’t able to sleep, I used photography as my release. I would grab my gear and head out to the beach and do long exposures at night. And slowing my camera down to 2, 4, and 8 minute exposures really helped me to slow down and recompose and get some balance back from all of the chaos.

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Kevin Young land-02 Kevin Young land-09 Kevin Young land-12

Support From The Photography Community

The photography community showed their support for Kevin in some amazing ways. The local APA and ASMP chapter threw a fundraiser for Kevin, Epson donated a printer and held an exhibition of his work, Macgroup also provided some photography equipment to Kevin to help get him back into photography.


Coming Full Circle

Kevin is eternally grateful to the nurse who administered CPR after he drowned at the beach. If it wasn’t for her, it’s hard to say where Kevin would be now. A few weeks ago, Kevin was able to give back a small gift with his talents and experience. Yce got married, and Kevin photographed that very special day for her.

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A Happy Ending to a Tragic Event

This is truly an amazing story, and after hearing Kevin’s story, it makes me truly grateful for all the things I have in my life (even the small things, like being able to roll over in bed). Be sure to check out Kevin’s Website, and if you would like to support Kevin on his continuing journey of recovery please consider purchasing one of his incredible landscape images.

Aerial Footage Provided by Travis Geske

Behind the Scenes Wedding footage provided by Dan Hughes

Featured Image (Black and white headshot of Kevin Young) provided Damian Battinelli

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Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Aaron Cheney

    Absolutely inspiring

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  2. Paul Blacklock

    Kevin You are Amazing!
    I truly admire your courage and determination.
    Your images are Terrific.

    Best Regards,

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  3. Michael Chapman

    Very inspirational story of the triumph of the human spirit. Thanks for sharing it with us!

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  4. Ralph Hightower

    Wow! Kevin has an incredible story. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have to relearn things that are natural. I enjoy photography, but it’s not my profession; I also enjoy computer programming and that is my profession.
    But to hear that his new daily routine was so arduous, it is a demonstration of the human spirit.

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  5. Ricki Richardson

    Amazing story.

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  6. Tyler Friesen

    awesome story

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  7. Ram Iyer

    A motivational piece of article. Kudos!!!

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  8. Brian Stalter

    Determination and ambition – this guy has it!

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  9. Kurk Rouse

    This is really a beautiful story, the photography journey can be a very hard one and sometimes it can really suck. But we all need to remember that they are people out there that have gone through bad situations where the odds are unbelievably stacked against them, but they still managed to succeed. This video is truly an inspiration to creatives that have ever thought about giving up.

    “Let your passion guide your career, life can really be so short to really do anything otherwise”
    I know i’ll be remembering his quote for a very long time. Thanks again for sharing this story

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  10. Kent Gresham

    This is an amazing story with an outcome that we don’t see much of. It take great strength, drive and determination to reclaim your life. I am still recovering from an emergency back surgery in Feb of 2013. I know the struggle he lives. We are lucky to have photography as an outlet. Great presentation Pye.

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