ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- LifeWaters was founded in 1999 by physical therapist Charley Wright. Over the past 20 years, it has taken veterans who have suffered spinal cord injuries from the depths of despair to purposeful, highly productive living.
No better example than Marine veteran Jeff Combs who had all but given up on life before his first dip in the pool at the Jefferson Barracks Veterans Administration hospital.
Combs was a middle school student when the World Trade Center towers were attacked on 9/11 and those images would influence him to enlist in the Marines a few years later.
“To be in sixth grade and see those images, it’s something I’ll remember ‘til the day I die,” said Combs.
Combs’ first two deployments took him to 14 countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. He was never injured. His luck changed two weeks after returning to Camp Pendleton in southern California. A car struck him while he was riding his motorcycle and his life changed forever.
Combs described the accident, saying, “The guy knocked me into a ravine, I fell 90 feet, and I hit a tree, that’s what stopped me.”
His injuries were extensive and gruesome. He spent weeks on life support. His back was broken in multiple places and his spinal cord was injured leaving him unable to walk. Unrelenting pain and severe depression followed for three and a half years until Wright badgered Combs to give the LifeWaters scuba program a shot.
When asked if the program saved his life, Combs replied, “Absolutely, 100 percent."
Jeff has come so far that he now travels domestically and internationally, mentoring other veterans and may be the program's best recruiter.
Collinsville native Leon Alexander tried out the program after meeting Combs.
Alexander has come a long way himself; the Army veteran was diagnosed as 100 percent disabled due to back injuries and PTSD after seeing intense combat in Iraq in 2008 and 2009 as a gunner in a Humvee. Once suicidal, he's made great strides through counseling and medication and credits his service dog as well. He has no doubt the LifeWaters program will help him moving forward.
“Absolutely this is something I will continue doing, I recommend anybody be a part of it," Alexander said.
In the 20 years, Charley Wright has been helping injured vets, he's helped transform hundreds of lives; few more dramatically than Combs’.
“Jeff was one of those guys, it took a lot of tries to get him to come out, but he’s turned his life around,” Wright said. “He’s started his own business. The guy is doing fabulous work."
Combs says his life is better now than before his paralysis. That's a powerful endorsement for the LifeWaters program. LifeWaters trains veterans in SCUBA in the region and then takes trips to tropical locations so veterans can experience underwater adventures.
If you are a veteran who could benefit or know one who could, here is a link to their webpage.