Last year, one of our Army friends informed us of a recent training accident. Christopher Natto, a Marine with 2d Reconnaissance Battalion, was performing a free-fall parachute training exercise. His chute deployed, but he landed in a grove of trees with branches not strong enough to bear his weight. Chris fell approximately 40 feet to the ground, landing on his back. His neck was broken.
“I came down near my buddy, which probably saved my life,” Chris explained. “It was night and if he hadn’t been close, I don’t know how they would have found me.” The injury to his spine left him paralyzed from the chest down.
Ten days later, Freedom Alliance sent his wife a grant to help with immediate expenses, as their lives had taken a drastic turn. Over the course of the next year, Chris spent time at several medical facilities, including a renowned spinal injury rehabilitation center in Atlanta. But Chris and his wife, Sydney, eventually returned to their hometown of St. Augustine, Florida, where much of their family still resides.
Because of his spinal cord injury, Chris has many obstacles to overcome on a daily basis. The movement in his arms is limited, as well as in his hands. His immune system has weakened, and with a toddler in the house, he can usually plan on getting sick whenever his son comes home with a cold. Another condition is overactive nerve endings that can cause discomfort even when the wind blows on his arm hair. His body can no longer regulate temperature, and he remains cold even on hot, muggy days.
But despite these new challenges, Chris is determined to enjoy the outdoors he has always loved. And this is why mobility is so important. Thanks to a generous donation from our supporters Dick and JoAnne West, we were able to give Chris the gift of an all-terrain wheelchair.
Our team secured a permit from the National Parks Service (with the help of Chief Ranger Kim Mayo) to host our giveaway at the historic Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, the oldest masonry fortress in the United States.
A crowd of about fifty people gathered early on Wednesday morning. Mr. Bill Dudley, the Chairman of the Veteran’s Council of St John’s County was able to spread the word to local veterans in the community, who came out in a show of support for this young Marine. In attendance were soldiers from the Florida National Guard, Marines from the local recruiting station, law enforcement officers, National Parks staff, Freedom Alliance supporters, and Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund recipient Brandi Anderson.
Freedom Alliance President Tom Kilgannon spoke to the crowd about the history of heroism found in the ranks of our military. Tom invited Chris and Sydney up to the podium to say a few words as he presented the all-terrain wheel chair to them.
Sydney said, “We got some part of our life back that was taken from us after Christopher’s accident. We have a dad that can be more of a dad now and be more active and a part of his son’s life. That’s what it means to us. It means a lot.”
Sydney then got Chris out of his manual chair and transferred him into the track chair. As Phillip Shadle of Action Track Chair began to teach Chris the functions of the chair, Rhett, their two-year-old son began playing on it. Phillip taught Rhett how to stand on the back and let his father wheel him around. The smiles on the faces of the crowd were nice, but the genuine happiness shared between a father and his son in that moment was unforgettable.