When a football injury left Mario Reed paralyzed at age 15, he survived thanks to his own strength of character and expert medical care at the Elvis Presley Trauma Center.

The experience inspired Mario to give back to his community by creating the Mario Reed Foundation to help other paralyzed patients.

Now, he wants to expand his mission by creating a facility where patients can access all the resources they need to live independently and improve their quality of life.

A catastrophic football injury changed the course of Mario Reed’s life when he was just 15 years old. While it may have left his lower body paralyzed, it spurred his mind, heart and soul onto a tireless path of service to his community.

Mario is inspired by gratitude.

Gratitude for friends and coaches who kept his spirits up, for family members who have been his bedrock over the years, for doctors and nurses at Regional One Health who helped save his life. He pours that gratitude into the Mario Reed Foundation, which supports patients who are dealing with paralysis due to a variety of illnesses and injuries.

“I realized the Lord had a different plan for me,” Mario said. “I said, ‘God, I’m going to let you lead me.’ I found my calling – I get more joy out of helping someone else than anything else.”

Born and raised in North Memphis, Mario saw hardship from a young age, and his family strove to escape a neighborhood that was no stranger to violence and poverty.

When Mario was 12, his father died, and his older brother vowed to take care of the family. After graduating from Lane College, his brother helped the family buy homes in Northaven, where Mario attended Woodstock Middle School; and later in Millington.

“That’s when I started finding my niche in football,” Mario said. “I was getting up early, doing my routines, doing pushups and sit-ups, running for miles.”

Mario Reed was paralyzed at age 15 due to a severe football injury. Ever since, he has been inspired to give back to help other individuals who are paralyzed.

Mario was on a path to play college and even professional football when tragedy struck.

It was the fourth game of the season, and Millington Central High School was contending for a state title. Mario hit the field on the kickoff return team, starting on the left side of the field. As he crossed over to the right side, he collided with a teammate and went down hard.

“I said, ‘Coach, I can’t feel anything. I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel my face,’” Mario recalls.

First responders landed a helicopter on the field to airlift him to Regional One Health’s Elvis Presley Trauma Center. “It went from all the noise and excitement of a big high school football game to total silence,” Mario said. “You could hear a pin drop.”

At the hospital, doctors determined Mario had broken his neck and severed his fifth vertebrae, paralyzing him from the neck down. His condition was grave; at one point, his blood pressure spiked and doctors weren’t sure if he’d make it through the night.

Thanks to the expertise of the trauma center’s multidisciplinary team, which is ready 24/7 to care for patients with the most critical injuries, Mario started to make progress.

But as his physical condition stabilized, he struggled emotionally with his new reality.

For a while, Mario didn’t want to see anyone. Two close football friends were the first to break through, and when he was ready, coaches from all over the area came to offer their support.

Eventually, he got to the point where he was consoling others. “They were in turmoil. Some of them told me they had never seen anything like this, and they wanted to quit. I told them no – we know the chances we take. This could happen to anyone – a gunshot, a car accident.”

Mario said access to medical resources like wheelchairs, roll-in showers, physical therapy and more can make it possible for paralyzed patients to live independently. He wants to create a center where patients can access those resources in one spot.

For Mario, it sparked an understanding that there are other people in the same circumstances – and even more, it sparked his desire to help any way he could.

Ever since, Mario has been on a mission.

He serves as a mentor to patients at Regional One Health, as well as through the Christopher Reeve Foundation, Youth Villages, Disability Connection Mid-South, SRVS Memphis and more. He has connected with patients and professionals at Shepherd Center, Baylor College of Medicine, and other major rehab facilities, and has worked with patients with brain injury, spinal cord injury, Down syndrome, and other conditions.

He founded the Mario Reed Foundation, wrote a book, and released a documentary, initially with the goal of helping patients deal with catastrophic injuries.

Now, he wants to expand the foundation’s mission to include developing a facility that can serve as a comprehensive resource for paralyzed patients. He’s working on a major proposal to seek state, federal and private grant funding, and has connected with Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and County Commissioners, State Senator Raumesh Akbari, and others.

“There are people with these injuries who are just barely surviving,” Mario said. “I want to help them find the resources and programs they need and make people’s lives easier. I want to gather all the resources they may not be receiving and advocate for people with paralysis.”

Mario said access to resources can make the difference between a patient living independently and having to go into a nursing home.

Patients with access to medical supplies, rehabilitation therapy, neurologists and other specialists, living supplies like wheelchairs and roll-in showers, etc., are more likely to live at home, he said. Accessible housing and transportation are also essential, as is education on how patients can take care of themselves and stay healthy.

“I want to give back to my community,” Mario said. “I was born and raised right by Regional One Health and LeBonheur, and that’s where I want to provide resources for people who are paralyzed. Different organizations have different missions, and I want to unify the knowledge and wisdom in the city in one place so people can get the resources they aren’t getting now.”

To learn more about the Mario Reed Foundation, visit https://marioreedfoundation.com/

To learn more and support Regional One Health, visit regionalonehealthfoundation.org