Hi. My name is Eric. This is my journey after being paralyzed in an off-road motorcycle accident on January 22, 2011. I suffered a fractured T12 resulting in a ASIA A Complete spinal cord injury. I have no sensation or motor function from my waist down and am in a wheelchair. My wife, two young daughters, family and friends have been supporting me in this journey.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Panama Canal

Today we realized we had a free day to go site seeing in Panama.  There was another spinal cord injury patient, Scott, who arrived on the same flight and is staying in the same hotel as us.  We decided to join him and his friend and go visit the famous Panama Canal.  We arranged for a van and guide to pick us up at 1pm.  Within 30 minutes we were gazing upon one of the world's architectural wonders.

Where both Panama and France had tried and given up trying to connect the two oceans, the United States was successful.  The Panama canal is made up of three separate sets of locks and the worlds second largest man made lake. We were at the viewing of the Miraflores locks, which is made up of three locks which lower ships 27 meters.  Each lock takes 8-10 minutes to empty using gravity.  We watched several massive container ships go through.  The lock system and organization around moving the ships is amazing.  Ships pay roughly $400k to go through the Panama canal.  The canal is open 24 hours per day/night.  Half the day traffic goes from Pacific to Carribean and the other half traffic goes the other direction.  Ships have to book reservations and arrive 72 hours in advance of their passage date.  The passage takes 8 - 10 hours to complete.  There are currently two parallel lock channels and Panama is in progress of constructing a third channel, which will increase throughput by 15%. If you ever have a chance to see the Panama canal, we highly recommend it!

Ship in lock full with water
Ship lowered after water lowered 20m+

We also had a challenging and successful day learning how to handle situations in a wheelchair.  We through our driver was coming with a special van setup for wheelchairs.  Nope, just a standard minivan.  Scott had his friend yank and pull him up onto a seat.  Very ungraceful and probably would have been painful if he could feel it, but he seemed used to it.  So Eric had a similar challenge to get up into the front seat, without the use of the transfer board we usually use.  With some leverage on the door and roof and I must say much better technique, Eric and I were able to get him in the van.  YEAH!  After we got back from our site seeing, we headed off to dinner.  Panama is not really wheelchair friendly and there are no ramps off of sidewalks (where there are sidewalks).  We got a lot of practice going up and down curbs.  I kind of struggled pushing Eric up curbs, but we made it ever time and so I consider it another successful adventure.  On the other hand, the restaurant recommended by the airline flight crew was not good for 3 of the 4 of us.  Eric ordered a lasagna, which was the only good meal.  I redeemed my meal by getting an ice cream sundae for dessert.

Tomorrow is the big day where we go to the Stem Cell Institute clinic and Eric receives his medical evaluation!  We are very excited!


  1. My grandma was born in Panama and her father, my great-grandfather, worked on construction of the original canal.

    The van experience sounds, tongue-and-cheek, funny. Good luck tomorrow!

  2. Hi Guys-

    Thanks for posting such wonderful details about your trip. Feels like we are almost there with you. We Hope your first day at the clinic went well. Hopefully no more minivan taxis rides!!

    Carla and Bill