Jayden Ortiz spends his days defying the odds. With every work out, every rep and every weight added, he shocks even himself.
“I don’t even know how I am moving my arms,” said Ortiz, 12, from New Haven. “People with my injury aren’t even moving.”
The middle school native embarked on family vacation to Puerto Rico in July. The trip was going well until Ortiz’s family stopped at a gas station.
“Gunfire,” said Ortiz. “Just heard gunfire. I blacked out, woke up on the floor, hearing more gun bullets, and then hearing the car just leaving.”
Ortiz’s father said that he believes his son was hit by a stray bullet. Jayden was shot just under his neck near his chest. When he was transported back to Connecticut, doctors told him he would likely never walk again.
“The worst feeling ever,” said Carlos Ortiz, Jayden’s father.
It is a feeling that Iunre Smart, of New Britain, knows well. In 2017, Smart was involved in a dirt bike accident. He was left wheelchair bound and doctors also told him he would most likely be paralyzed for the rest of his life.
“I would never be able to walk, feel, or move again from my chest down,” said Smart. “Same thing as Jayden.”
Like Jayden, Smart had other plans. On Monday, he said he is able to walk, stand, he even drives with help from hand brakes.
“I had to do it for my kids. I had to do it for myself. I had to do it, now, for the world,” said Smart.
Smart visited Ortiz for the first time this past weekend at the Hospital for Special Care, where Smart used to be a patient as well.
The two are an unlikely pair. Smart is in his thirties, he is a father and a football coach. Ortiz is a middle school student who, until his accident, was mainly worried about school and homework. But Ortiz said that he is thankful for the bond they share and the new friendship.
“It feels good to know I am not alone,” said Ortiz.
Smart is one of two mentors who have helped Ortiz at the Hospital for Special Care. Ortiz and his father both said the mentors have aided in changing the middle schooler’s attitude and perspective.
“I’m going to be able to walk. I’m going to get my feeling back,” said Ortiz. “I’m going to be back to the old Jayden, basically.”
Smart said he is in the process of starting a non-profit to connect more people in similar situations.
“Why get all these blessings and not share it?” said Smart.
After months of hard-work, Ortiz is scheduled to go home Thursday. He said he is excited, but still has a long road ahead. His family has to find a way to buy him a chair lift so he can access their second floor apartment.
Ortiz said he is most excited to get back home and see his dog. He hopes that his story can inspire others one day as well.