Arash Bayatmakou Shifts Paradigms On Spinal Injuries

Berkeley writer and entrepreneur writes a book and starts a nonprofit to change recovery expectations for spinal injury sufferers.


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Life takes us in unexpected directions. Sometimes it happens in an instant, like a surprising flash of lightening in an approaching storm. Other times, it happens so gradually we don’t see it until years later in a moment of reflection. At the crossroads of an unexpected event, which path do we choose? For Berkeley writer and entrepreneur Arash Bayatmakou, this all comes to light in his recently published memoir, Little Big Steps: A Life-Changing Injury and the Inspirational Journey to Overcome the Odds.

As an athletic and adventurous young man, Bayatmakou enjoyed challenging himself with backpacking trips to the mountains, cross-country cycling, swimming, and exploring nature around the world. After finishing his university studies at Boston College in 2003, he returned to his hometown of Berkeley to work for an active travel company and to map out his future career. On earning his MBA in 2011 at the University of San Francisco, he entered the green energy field, aspiring to achieve large-scale environmental change. He became an active member of Net Impact, a nationwide environmental organization. Then, a year later, his world was turned upside down.

Life takes us in unexpected directions. The challenge becomes being so wide-awake in the moment that we can embrace it without fear. In 2012, at the age of 30, Bayatmakou suffered a fall from a balcony, suffering a traumatic injury to his spine, and was told by the hospital staff that he would never walk again or regain full function of his body. When his medical insurance ran its course, he was told to accept his new reality and go home. “Once I got hurt, everything stopped,” said Bayatmakou. “I couldn’t work; I couldn’t live independently, and any thought of continuing a career or professional pursuit had to be put on hold.”

Bristling at the sharply definitive and negative prognosis, he set off on a path to prove his doctor wrong, convinced that with hard work and a positive outlook, he could get back on his feet.

Little Big Steps recounts his journey from the moment he woke up in the hospital room to defining his recovery on his own terms. From this fierce and focused determination emerged a higher goal, that of helping to improve a less-than-perfect medical system, so that others with similar injuries would have a better experience.

One of the trail markers on his new path was starting his nonprofit, No Limits Collaborative, in Oakland. Besides designing programs for health care practitioners, Bayatmakou has been working successfully with UC Berkeley’s recreation and sports department for over two years to provide training and instruction on how to better serve students and staff with a variety of disabilities. “Hospitals are still using approaches and methods of 30 years ago that support a perspective of hopeless recovery for patients,” said Bayatmakou.

As a consultant/volunteer for two local companies developing robotic exo-skeletons to replace the confinement of wheelchairs, Bayatmakou provides valuable insights for research and development teams. Ekso Bionics in Richmond and SuitX in Emeryville, both born from a UC Berkeley research lab, are at the forefront of improving the rehabilitation experience and outlook for patients with mobility challenges.

Yes, life has a way of taking us in unexpected directions. Most of us like to think we can embrace the “lemons into lemonades” adage when faced with adversity. Bayatmakou embraced his circumstances and bravely reinvented his future. His indomitable spirit is the sugar that sweetens even the most wicked-sour lemon in the bunch. “Your life is your own; don’t allow anyone to tell you how you can or should live it,” Bayatmakou said. Last summer, he completed a 5-mile swim around Donner Lake to raise money for his nonprofit.

His career aspirations to exert positive impact have not changed, only the details have. Today, Bayatmakou is a writer and activist, motivational speaker, and paradigm shifter. Little Big Steps is more than a memoir; it is a clarion call to improve and update an antiquated medical system. It is an inspirational guide for everyone, leaving huge footprints for us to follow while we find our own path through unexpected change.

 

Little Big Steps: A Life-Changing Injury and the Inspirational Journey to Overcome the Odds is available on Amazon. To find more information or to book a speaking engagement, visit ArashRecovery.com. Connect with Arash Bayatmakou on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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