U.S. Army Veteran and Southeastern Chapter member Marco Bungert quite liked the service – 101st Airborne – and probably would have stayed in for twenty years had it not been for an accident. His dad, formerly 82nd Airborne, was especially proud. “I think the first time I ever saw my dad cry was when I was shipping off,” Marco remembers. “He hugged me goodbye and had a little tear in his eye.”
But barely a year in, when he was just 18 years old, an automobile accident left him paralyzed. On a drive back to base, the driver fell asleep at the wheel and wrecked, sustaining only a broken jaw. Marco became a T5-T6 complete paraplegic from just below the chest down.
“I didn’t know too much about spinal cord injuries. I thought I won’t be able to drive, I won’t be married, I won’t have kids, my life is pretty much over.”
But while in rehab he met a man who was paralyzed from the neck down and couldn’t move his arms. One day this gentleman asked Marco to help feed him his lunch. At that moment, Marco realized he could work to overcome his challenges, and someone else could always have it worse.
“I’ll do anything I can do; I will figure it out,” Marco remembers thinking.
Shortly after his injury he met a PVA National Service Officer and she helped him fill out paperwork for his earned benefits as well as grants for putting hand controls on his vehicle and adapting his home to be more accessible – which included widening doors, installing a roll-in shower, and adding a wraparound porch.
“Anything I needed help with, I could go up to her office and she would take care of everything for me,” Marco says. She also introduced him to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games and other sports and therapy programs to assist his recovery.
With this help he was able to begin driving again, although he says he was nervous using hand controls for the first time. “My sister drove with me for a long time because everytime I made a left turn I would always fall over to the right; my balance was off,” says Marco. So during the relearning experience his sister would brace him everytime he made a left turn, until Marco could figure out how to position his legs a certain way and balance himself without falling over.
Today, Marco is happily married with four children. And having figured out how to use hand controls in his truck and the best way to get in and out of his car, he makes videos and mentors the newly injured to show them how it’s done. “Sometimes when you go to the VA and you take the drivers course it’s usually a minivan with ramps and swivel chairs, and some people don’t want or need that type of setup. I figured it out. I sat in my driveway – I had a folding wheelchair at the time and I folded it, pulled it in front of me, behind me, took all the wheels off, left them on.”
His paralysis is almost an afterthought today, so much so that he says his wife sometimes forgets to pack his wheelchair when they’re heading out – and his kids have never known him to be out of a wheelchair so this is their normal.
Marco Bungert is truly a positive person who is paying it forward to his family, friends, PVA, and his fellow Veterans. He remains active in sports, regularly helps others adapt to their injuries, and was recently featured in PVA’s “Honor the Spot” PSA urging the public to save accessible parking spaces for those who need them.