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Miller Place Man Spins Spinal Injury Into a Positive

After suffering a debilitating back injury at the age of 24, Joey Byrnes has created 'All Backed Together,' a nonprofit holding its first fundraiser in September.

Alexis Friedman and Joey Byrnes. Courtesy photo.
Alexis Friedman and Joey Byrnes. Courtesy photo.
When Joey Byrnes had a back injury January of 2011, he recalls working through the pain over the next few months during his job as an apprentice for a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company. And then in April, he could bear it no more.

Two surgeries and one postponed wedding later, Byrnes and his fiancé Alexis Friedman – Shoreham-Wading River graduates who currently live in Miller Place – have formed All Backed Together, a nonprofit that supports individuals with spinal injuries and is working to raise funds to support spinal research.

"After my first surgery, I remember thinking of trying to help others going through something similar," Byrnes said on Tuesday. "It was struggle after struggle after struggle, and I was almost trying to find a reason to live. I'd be in pain all day, asking 'Why is this happening to me?' That's when I came up with All Backed Together. To let other people know, 'We got your back.'"

In the two-and-a-half years since, Byrnes – now 27 years old – has suffered injuries to the point that getting out of bed can take up to two hours, and he is still unable to work because of the wrenching pain.

What he says he's found in the time he's been injured is a lack of support for victims of back injuries, which some may consider a commonplace injury, though can really cut through the bone.

"I think some people almost frown upon back injuries, like someone who has back pain, the first thing that comes to mind is someone sitting at home on a couch taking pain meds, who wants to collect a paycheck. Sure, there are people like that, but I know people who have wanted to take their own life over this kind of pain.

"I've had people come up to me and tell me to move out of the way," he said. "But my life has been totally restricted ... It feels sometimes like I'm being stabbed with two really thick swords from the sides, into my spine. It's horrible."

Friedman, who has worked as a replacement teacher in the Shoreham-Wading River School District – though, due to budget constraints, is still hoping for a full-time role – called back pain "kind of like an invisible disease. He looks fine; he's a good-looking 27-year-old man ... but he has excruciating pain on the inside."

In addition, she said, the pain takes on a mental aspect as well. 

"It's so hard for someone so young to have such a big life change as this. Though it's not just about age – even people in their 40s or 50s, this can be something that is mentally debilitating to anyone."

To help stem that, All Backed Together is holding its first fundraising event on Sept. 7 – a 5K run at Cedar Beach. Cost to run is $25, increasing to $30 as the date gets closer.

Byrnes said that if this first event is successful, a friend in Chicago – whom he met through All Backed Together – has expressed interest in organizing a fundraiser out there. In time, Byrnes hopes to build up the support group to build an aquatic therapy facility, something he said has helped him build up his legs to support his back.

"I want to make us one of the biggest organizations there are," he said. "So many studies go unfunded, and I want to see research reach new levels it has never been to before."

As for the couple's wedding? There are bigger things to take care of right now, Friedman said.

"That's just a piece of paper. We're basically married anyways. The most important thing is that he gets better before we move on with any wedding plans."
Susan Striga August 13, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Dear Dear Joey, My heart aches for you. what a wonderful site this is. My husband is way older then you, he has Spinal Stenosis he has had a critical surgery this year, two rods and eight screws put in, a ten hour surgery because his muscles in his back were so hard to get through, His life has changed. As I read your story, tears were pouring down my face that you are going through this at such a young age. It sounds like my husbands story, he keeps crawling back to work every day after this surgery, trying not to go on disability even though he is 61..It hasn't even been a Year and now his neck shoulders and arms are having pain searing down them. Sure enough because of his surgery he has been using his upper body which inflamed the Stenosis he has there that we didn't even know about. His Doctor told him, sir, your body is crying, telling you to stop torturing it. He is still crawling to work every day trying to make it to September when he turns 62 and collect early retirement. I honestly do not know if he will make it.. You are courageous young man. Do not feel ashamed to collect Disability, you are in pain and will only get worse, You need to baby your back, love your body, do not feel like its betraying you. You have a wonderful fiancé on your side.I am not a Religious person, but I am going to pray you get relief young man. My heart aches for you!
Susan Striga August 13, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Please tell me how I can help you raise money. I want to donate.
joseph byrnes August 14, 2013 at 09:36 AM
Susan, Thank you for the kind words. I did imagine things being different back when I was a commercial HVAC service technician for four years, and despite the severe pain I go through, everything does feel right. I have found inspiration through my pain and struggles and my goal is to make dreams come true for those suffering. I am sorry for your husbands struggles as if it was possible I would take the pain away from all and give it to myself. My pain gets worse everyday but it seems god has blessed me to use it as a power to help others. Please send my prayers to your husband. You are very right, and to baby the back is what needs to be done. I hope nothing but the best for your husband and hope that some of his pain can diminish. I appreciate you wanting to help and want you to know it is something you do not have to do. Whether you would like to buy a few All Backed Together bracelets or donate you can do so via www.allbackedtogether.com or through the facebook page https://www.Facebook.com/aquatictherapymypainmystruggles We are also having our 1st 5k race/walk this September 7th, and hope to have many there to make the event a success. The events success will make it available to have more in the future, and I plan to have many more. Your words have brought a smile to my face and it brings a tear to my eyes that there is support out there for the organization and myself. Thank you so much for reaching out and blessing me with your words. Thank you, Joseph Byrnes All Backed Together

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