Hector Del Valle’s Story
Hello, my name is Hector Del Valle. I am 46 years old and became paralyzed from the chest down after I injured myself while I was drinking and driving almost 30 years ago at the age of 17.
The purpose of sharing my story is to help others like me who have used drugs including alcohol to cope with life.
Prior to injuring myself I didn’t have much to complain about at 17 years old.
Hector Del Valle speaks on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a person with a disability and about his 21 years of recovery.
Hector had a drug and alcohol history within his own family and felt ashamed. He started using himself at the age of 12-13 including marijuana, cocaine, and acid up until his senior year in High School. Hector was a poor student with a “D” average. He was physically fit and the captain of his gymnastics team but he started missing practices.
When he was 17 he was the driver, was drinking and using other drugs, blacked out, and the next thing he remembered was being cut out of the vehicle and waking up in the emergency room. He sustained a spinal cord injury - quadriplegia at the C6-7 level. He remembers an uncompassionate nurse saying, “That is what you get for drinking and driving”. He felt the reality of the situation but it didn’t last long.
During his 5 months of inpatient rehab he continued drugs and alcohol secondary to families and staff engaging in and partying with the patients. Due to the emotional and physical pain he wanted to “numb out”. His blood alcohol level was .20 at the time of the accident still no one asked about the accident or whether he had a problem!
In June, 1983 Hector spoke at his high school graduation about the drinking/drugging cause of his accident. His speech was widely covered in the news media. President Reagan called him the next day and a career of speaking in New Jersey high schools began. He wanted to help other people but at the same time neglected his own issues, including addiction, for many years. In 1984 President Reagan came to New Jersey and Hector shared the podium with the President. For the next 5 years he continued to be a speaker against drinking and driving but continued to use.
One day while speaking in a treatment facility reality hit. - Individuals who were trying to recover, approached him and asked about “his” recovery. Then and there he made a conscious choice to seek help but found it difficult because facilities were not accessible. Feeling alone and misunderstood he relapsed until 1989 when he finally found assistance. Hector has been in recovery since then.
Hector continues to speak - his mission - to help make communities accessible and friendly to individuals with disabilities. The goals are to gain a better understanding of the disability and work together to learn what can be done to facilitate change and increase awareness.
Hector also educates students entering the social work profession to better understand the dynamics of those with a disability, and an addiction, in the hopes this increases their comfort level and self-awareness.