It was a workout like any other — until Joel Haler heard what he described as a “loud pop” in his back.
Within 24 hours, Haler, a 20-year-old college student at Hope College in Holland, Mich., said he found himself paralyzed from the waist down.
It all started last October when he was in health class doing the Insanity workout, a popular exercise routine. At first he thought nothing of the popping sound and since he had back problems since he was a child, the initial pain wasn’t all that foreign.
But then he lost strength in his legs and it became difficult to walk. Later that night, Haler went to the emergency room and doctors, unable to do much, sent him home with pain medicine.
The next day Haler says he woke up paralyzed from the waist down, with doctors unsure of what, exactly, was happening. After they reportedly found no physical damage to his spine that would cause paralysis, he was inevitably sent home in a wheelchair.
“At first I was in complete shock and I was just like, ‘Wait a minute. What just happened?’” he told TheBlaze. “I’ve never suffered that traumatic of an event. Mentally, at first I was trying to replay everything … I quickly realized, ‘I’m paralyzed. I’m just going to have to start getting used to this.’”
Over the course of three months, Haler saw numerous doctors but to no avail. His life, in many ways, was on hold. While his professors allowed him to finish the semester at home in New Castle, Ind., he decided to take medical leave for the spring semester.
Despite his Christian faith and his personal quest to come to terms with the situation, Haler, the son of a pastor, felt the impact of his new-found limitations.
“At first my faith was extremely high. I just had a real sense of peace about the situation, but then as I got out of the hospital and things started to progress [it] spiraled me down into almost a depression,” he said.
“God, why are you doing this to me?” Haler remembers asking.
But while he felt despair as he wondered if he’d ever be able to walk again, the athlete said he soon experienced signs that he would soon recover — messages he believes came straight from God.
Messages From God?
This is the part that some will find hard to believe.
Sometime in early January, Haler said he had a dream in which he saw a big banner that simply read “J23.” He awoke confused and turned to his faith for the answers.
“I tried figuring it out and my dad alongside with me. We started looking in the Bible … at books that began with a ‘J’ and then looked at chapter 23 [in each],” Haler said.
He and his father, Pastor Eric Haler of New Covenant Worship Center, New Castle, Ind., couldn’t find anything. But then Haler said something else happened — yet another sign that helped put the pieces together.
“Literally that next week a little boy at church [named Braxton], 4 years old, came up to me and was like, ‘Joel you’re going to walk on a Thursday,” Haler recalled.
While some would have surely dismissed the child’s claim as nothing more than a silly prediction, Haler said he began thinking about the dream and then the child’s message and felt that the boy might actually be right.
“I know God told him this for a reason,” Haler said.
TheBlaze spoke with Braxton’s mother, Angela, who corroborated Haler’s account and said that her son first made the Thursday proclamation while the family was singing praise and worship music at their home last month. While they were praying for Haler, Braxton said something his mother wasn’t quite sure about at first.
“I asked him if he felt God was telling him anything,” she said of Braxton. “He said that Joel was going to walk on a Thursday.”
Angela continued, “Honestly, I thought it would be really cool if he was right, but I almost thought it was a little crazy, just because kids can say anything.”
That said, the next time the family saw Haler at church, the young boy let him know.
After hearing the boy’s prediction, the paralyzed athlete began looking at the calendar, wondering if he’d walk again on a Thursday as the child had promised.
Then, he remembered the J23 he so vividly saw in his dream and began pondering whether the “J” was a reference to a month; if so, perhaps the “23″ was the day of that month.
“I looked into June and July and of course it didn’t fall on a Thursday and that’s why my dad was like, ‘Why don’t you just take a peek in January?’” Haler recalled.
Alas, Jan. 23 would be a Thursday. Rather than hold onto skepticism, Haler said that he jumped right in and believed wholeheartedly that he would regain feeling in his legs.
“I was really standing on faith. I had fasted. I was like, ‘This is going to be the day,’” Haler said. “I really trusted God and I put my faith and everything in this. I wish that people could experience that. I have never been so confidant in something in my entire life.”
Haler felt immense comfort in the days leading up to Jan. 23. And then, he claimed, “it” happened.
“I didn’t sleep at all that night. If this is going to happen, I wanted to be awake for it,” he recalled.
Around 3 a.m. on Jan. 23, Haler said he began feeling tinging in his toes. Then, pain began working its way up his legs, taking about an hour and a half to reach his hips.
“And that’s when I pinched myself, [thinking] ‘Wow this is the real deal. This is really happening right now,’” he said. “So I swung my legs and I started walking.”
Considering that he had been wheelchair-bound for three months, Haler considers it a miracle that he was able to instantly walk again.
After all, muscle atrophy often sets in — and doctors had reportedly told Haler that even if he walked again, he’d need to relearn the mechanics.
Haler claims he was able to immediately hop out of bed, strut into his parents’ bedroom and wake them up. Ecstatic over seeing their son on his feet again, they immediately embraced him.
Weeks later, Haler is still walking and the pain has totally dissipated. He’s calling the entire thing a miracle and he’s giving all the credit for his recovery to God.
“There are people who will say this is impossible. I want to encourage them,” he said. “All of these elements are coming from God clearly and science cannot back this up … I don’t know how people can doubt this.”
Haler has been speaking at churches about his experience since it unfolded. He believes God wants him to spread his testimony and to share the challenges he faced.
“This has really changed my life for the better,” he said. “The maturity that has gone on inside of me. This is something God wanted to do in me.”
The Impact on His Family
Eric Haler, too, spoke to TheBlaze, detailing his family’s struggles with his son’s paralysis, noting that Joel’s plight essentially put the family’s life “on hold.”
Not long after the paralysis set in, church members helped build a ramp at the family home and Joel began using his parent’s bathroom, as his wheelchair wouldn’t fit into his.
The changes were profound.
Eric said he and his wife were left thinking, “Where do we go from here?” While they had questions, the family rallied around their son — and Eric said his faith actually intensified.
“I began to do more prayer and fasting and seeking God,” the pastor said.
Throughout the ordeal, Eric said he had a sense that God was using the tragedy to help refine his son’s faith.
“I think you’re paralyzed in you’re legs because sometimes you’re paralyzed in making choices,” Eric recalled telling Joel.
Eric, too, said he had a dream of his own the day after that little boy reportedly approached his son and predicted he’d walk again.
“I had actually a dream … that [a rehabilitation center] called me and when I’m on the phone with them in my dream Joel walks out of his room … and I told them, ‘My son is walking,’” he said. “‘I don’t know if I’m going to need your services.’”
Eric believes that this, too, was a sign that his son’s paralysis would come to an end.
What Doctors Say
Some will surely be skeptical of the story, which the Haler family anticipates.
TheBlaze reached out to Sarah Hughes, a local nurse who attends Haler’s church. She said she believes Joel’s story, noting that she wasn’t quite sure what to think when she first heard it all.
That said, she realized back in October that Haler was truly in bad shape.
And after seeing how he went from wheelchair bound to up and walking overnight, Hughes said she was truly moved as she hadn’t quite seen anything like it.
“Medically, he should have had no muscle tone to be able to walk after three months in a wheelchair,” she said. “There were no feelings whatsoever in his legs.”
Hughes said that the church has been given “a renewed sense of faith” as a result of Haler’s recovery.
Haler’s doctors were not willing to speak with TheBlaze about their patient’s case despite numerous attempts and Haler telling TheBlaze he gave his doctors permission to do so (although we couldn’t verify that claim with the doctors because they wouldn’t talk).
We did, however, reach out to orthopedic surgeons and doctors unaffiliated with the case who shared some insight.
Family physician Dr. Bola Oyeyipo said that it is possible to walk after three months in a wheelchair, but that the person would need “extensive physical therapy” to be able to fully use muscles again. Usually, recovery is gradual.
“We treat some fractures with casts that can stay on for 12 weeks or more,” Oyeyipo said. “When the cast is removed, these folks can usually walk albeit slow and guarded till they build muscle strength.”
Dr. Levi Harrison, an orthopedic surgeon based in Los Angeles, Calif., said that a patient confined to a wheelchair for three months would not be able to get up and immediately walk again.
“They would suffer from joint contracture (shortening of a muscle of joint) and the inability to ambulate,” he said. “They would also have poor proprioception in their ankles, knees and feet, making gait (normal pattern of movement) next to impossible.”
Harrison also said that a person who spent too much time in a wheelchair would have needed “high-powered physical therapy and a full-body conditioning program.” Haler was receiving Robotic Walking Treatment leading up to regaining feeling, though it is unclear how that might have played a role in his recovery.
“I have never seen a patient simply get up and walk well after having dense paralysis and being wheelchair bound for three months,” Harrison said.
Still, he didn’t rule out that no medical explanation could mean a truly divine one: “Miracles happen every day, though. This shows us that medicine has some answers but God has all the answers.”
Featured image via Joel Haler’s Facebook