WEST CAPE MAY - If there’s one family who knows how life can change in the blink of an eye, it’s the Senft family, whose teenage son, Archer Senft, became a quadriplegic five years ago (Aug. 5, 2015) when he dove into a sandbar to cool off after working the lunch rush as a cook at a local beach club and shattered his neck.
Now, at 22, the 6-foot-4-inch young man is looking forward to his fourth year of a five-year engineering program at the University of Pennsylvania, and working with his younger brother producing digital artwork, at slimeyard.com.
“He’s doing great,” Senft’s mother, Louise, said, as she reflected on how the family’s lives were changed that fateful day. The family has a home in West Cape May.
As a college student, Senft's mother said her son “killed it” as a freshman, juggling his new experiences, living in a dorm designed especially for handicapped students, with his studies. His father, Billy, moved into an apartment nearby to help his son during the week.
“His second year, he really got slammed with the intensity and worked hard - 10 hours a day on his own - to keep up,” his mother said. “He made some really good friends. This spring, when school closed because of COVID-19, Penn put their courses online quickly, and it was a real equalizer for Archer.
“He would sometimes have to listen to his professors on a tape because he missed class,” she explained. “Now, with classes online, he got to see his professor and hear from his professor just like his peers. Exams were online for everyone, instead of him having to go to Special Services for assistance with them. The COVID shutdown has been a real interesting experience for him, and us.”
Because Senft’s immunity system is impacted by his quadriplegia, the Senfts have taken extra precautions during the pandemic to protect him. While his injury results in the need for extra care, over the five years the family has become used to it, his mother said.
“It’s like an athlete preparing for the Olympics. You can’t have a slouch day,” she said. “Every day is a good workout because, if we slouch, Archer could get very ill. His skin needs to be tended to so there are no wounds. We are still caring for a wound that hasn’t healed from the placement of a pacemaker four years ago.
“His skin and body are very delicate,” his mother continued.
As an example, she noted her son’s body temperature is no longer regulated internally, so he often requires layers of clothing to stay warm. “He can get hot very quickly, too, which can result in high blood pressure, so you have to change his environment quickly,” she said. “He’s in good physical condition right now, and eating good food, as well. His body is in a good rhythm now.”
This summer, Archer and his younger brother, Dutch, are renting a studio in Baltimore, Maryland, their hometown, where they plan to produce digital art and oil portraits.
“Dutch takes care of his brother, who he just adores,” Senft’s mother said. “Dutch has become a really good portrait artist and they are producing art. Archer has ideas for a large oil painting, and Dutch will be his arms and hands. They are each producing art, side by side, every day, and Dutch is caring for all of Archer’s needs.”
Archer’s progress is especially poignant, as his mother prepares to launch a podcast (blinkofaneyepodcast.com) that explores her journal entries from the time of the accident, with “guests who share stories of trauma, grief, awakening, and epiphanies in the face of an event that changes everything.
“It’s another level of therapeutic inquiry for me,” the mother of five said. “There are moments when I cry when I remember where we were; there are tears of loss and gratitude. There are also moments I laugh because it’s such a relief where we are today. It’s just been amazing, nothing short of a miracle.”
The podcast, called “Blink of an Eye,” is Senft’s mother reading her journal mixed with interviews of many of those who were part of her son’s recovery, including his friend, who rescued Archer from the water after he broke his C-5 vertebra, and the lifeguard who called her to tell her about the incident. Each weekly podcast will be 30-45 minutes long and cover the experiences that changed the family’s lives.
“Who would have thought we’d be here,” she said, reflecting on the past five years. “I hope the podcast will bring hope to others who will see how you can advocate for what is possible, even in the face of an event that changes everything.”
To contact Karen Knight, email firstname.lastname@example.org.