In early 2010, the Los Altos natives were well into their first year of marriage – and Jennifer was eight months’ pregnant – when Chris suffered injuries to his L1 and T12 vertebra in a dirt-bike accident Feb. 20 (see “The power of love, a lesson in hope,” Town Crier, May 25, 2010).
Chris likened the accident to a mortar attack.
“It’s almost like a bomb went off,” he said. “Everyone around is affected by it.”
And everyone was shell-shocked. Physically fit, a promising banking career, married to his best friend and a baby on the way – Chris faced major changes adjusting to a new way of life because of one moment.
“That’s how quickly your life can change,” he said.
It’s often easy to see the physical challenges people face. What aren’t apparent are the mental challenges – the self-doubt, the despair. How would he support his family? Would he be able to participate in family functions? And most importantly, would he be a good father?
Everyone agrees – little Christopher has brought his parents life and light, love and joy – and a cheerful expectation for the future.
Chris no longer wonders if he’ll be a good father.
“They’re very silly together, these two,” Jennifer said of her two Christophers.
Family photos show both boys sucking on pacifiers; Chris reading to Little Christopher; Jennifer pushing Chris while Chris pushes Christopher’s stroller; and Christopher on Daddy’s lap for a ride in the wheelchair. Kathy Bridgman said her grandson reminds her of a baby kangaroo in the pouch with Chris.
Kathy praised Jennifer’s love for and support of Chris.
“Without Jenny, who knows what would have happened?” she said. “If there are ever soul mates – those two are soul mates.”
But ultimately, it was Chris who had to summon his inner strength and record over the nagging voices of self-doubt playing in his head.
“He had to go in and find Chris,” Kathy said. “He has his sense of humor back – his eyes are shining blue again.”
And little Christopher’s eyes are shining blue, too – albeit a little mischievously.
“He brought so much joy on dark, dark days,” Chris said of his son.
The new normal
Despite doctors’ grim prognosis that he would not walk again, Chris is determined to shed the wheelchair.
“He calls his chair the ‘black mamba,’” said Courtney Bridgman-Eltherington, Chris’ sister.
Embarking on an aggressive physical-therapy routine that took him to Sci-FIT in Pleasanton four times each week, Chris vowed he would be walking when his son began taking his first steps.
“The doctor told him to cool it a little bit,” Jennifer said.
The bones in Chris’ spine haven’t fully healed and, recently, doctors thought he might need additional surgery – another potential setback that could have delayed his ambitious therapy program.
“It was good news – no surgery,” Kathy said. “I told Chris, ‘Let’s take a second and appreciate the good news.’”
It’s the new normal, Kathy said. Dwelling on the positive. A newly found appreciation and gratitude for the little things in life, even when you’re working on the big ones.
Earlier this year, Chris invited his family to Sci-FIT to watch him work out.
“(That’s) the first time I ever saw him get up,” Courtney said. “My mom and I were so emotional and excited to see him out of the chair.”
With a brace tightly secured around his left leg and a pair of hand crutches, Chris is able walk – slowly but steadily, no stairs – as long as it’s not too far. And with the crutches, he can’t carry anything.
“I’m still in the wheelchair 60 percent of the time,” he said.
And that’s just fine with little Christopher, who’s up and walking, too, but still moves faster on all fours than his two unsteady legs.
“He loves to push Chris in his wheelchair,” Jennifer said.
Chris reports that his little blue-eyed monster – a lovely monster, mind you – hijacks the chair while he’s brushing his teeth. Jennifer said it makes for a great photo – Dad brushing his teeth while Christopher pushes him through the house.
Sense of purpose
Nearly one year after the accident, Chris returned to his job as a mortgage loan officer at Bank of America. He’s not quite the top producer he was the year before.
“I’m working my way back to that,” he said. “It’s good. Business is good.”
The transition has been relatively smooth, Chris said, thanks to his boss, branch manager Charles Putris, who arranged for Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations for Chris’ office.
“He’s not your typical boss – he takes care of you,” Chris said. “He’s really just a great guy.”
And Chris takes home so much more than a paycheck.
“He also has a sense of purpose,” Kathy said.
Outside of work, the Bridgman family won’t let a stroller or wheelchair slow them down.
“We definitely have changed the way we look at certain activities, but we do want to lead an adventurous and fun life,” Jennifer said.
Kayaking is definitely on the list, Courtney said. But first, a Gavin DeGraw concert. Chris has purchased a cowboy hat for the occasion.
“Whoever controls the universe – they gave me an obstacle,” Chris said. “But it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle and control.”