A life-changing accident might make a person depressed or cause them to withdraw from family and friends. But not Joseph Groh.
Since a near-fatal biking accident in 2008, the longtime HVAC industry executive and former sheet metal worker has turned what could have been considered a tragedy into a chance to help other people suffering from debilitating injuries and illnesses.
Today, Groh runs the Joseph Groh Foundation, a nonprofit that concentrates on helping people with injuries or diseases that affect mobility or quality of life. To date, the charity has raised more than $427,000 for people with spinal injuries or nervous system disorders such as multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The money has been used to purchase wheelchairs or other equipment to improve their lives.
“We’re small but we do just what we can do in that regard,” Groh said in a phone interview from his Texas home, one specially designed and built in 2010 to make his life easier. He answers calls and dials the phone by puffing on a mouthpiece and types emails by dictating into a microphone.
It’s a very different existence from the one Groh had nine years ago. On Father’s Day 2008, Groh wanted to go for a bike ride.
The then-53-year-old executive with PCI Industries had always been active, and tried to work out regularly. But he hadn’t had a chance to ride his mountain bike recently — an activity that Groh said he always enjoyed.
So he took off, riding from his home to a trail at a nearby park in Grapevine, Texas. As Groh pedaled fast during what he described as an “aerobic ride,” he fell off his bike attempting to make a sharp turn. As the wheels skidded on gravel and he flew over the handlebars, Groh wondered just how hard the landing would be.
Groh landed headfirst on the ground, shattering vertebrae in his spine and breaking his neck. Doctors would later tell him that he had lost the use of his body below his shoulders. The next six months were consumed with hospital stays, rehabilitation therapy and life-threatening complications from the accident.
When he finally returned home, his condition stable, he found himself spending lots of time alone in his bedroom, which like the rest of his home, had been modified to make adjusting to his new life easier.
“I literally remember just looking in the mirror one day and thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ I’m 53. I started thinking about what I didn’t have (anymore) and I thought, ‘You know, let’s think about what you do have,’” he recalled.
While he could no longer walk or ride a bike, his brain was still sharp. And while he hadn’t planned on retiring in his early 50s, he had always wanted to do something philanthropic in his free time and give back to the industry that had given his family so much.
A new goal
In 2009, the Joseph Groh Foundation was born. Groh used his contacts in the HVAC industry to help raise money, along with applying for grants and seeking donations. Much of the foundation’s funding comes from the three golf tournaments it holds annually in Dallas, Chicago and Minneapolis. Each one has attracted dozens of sponsors, many of them from the HVAC industry, including Lennox, Daikin and Carlisle HVAC Products.
For Wylie, Texas-based Carlisle, supporting a charity in its own backyard that helps people with connections to the HVAC industry seemed like a natural, said Billy Prewitt, a marketing and business development manager with Carlisle.
“We felt it fit right in with our values and what we like to give back,” said Prewitt, who has participated in several of the golf events. “So we began supporting the organization in Dallas and now support … as much as we can.”
Carlisle sponsors all three of the foundation’s tournaments.
“It’s a big opportunity for us to give back in a small way,” Prewitt added.
Money raised from the tournaments and through donations has allowed the foundation to help more than 40 people receive home renovations, wheelchairs and other medical devices to help them live more independently or just more comfortably.
Among the recent recipients is Charlie Yerger, a Johnson Controls employee with a form of muscular dystrophy that severely limits his movement. Today, he is confined to a wheelchair and does technical support via phone and online from his Texas home. The Groh Foundation installed a wheelchair lift on his truck and its currently remodeling his bathroom to make it more accessible for him.
When he’s not working, Yerger is an artist, painting landscapes. He’s donating some of his recent artwork, which typically sells for about $200 a painting, to the Groh Foundation to help raise money to further its mission.
“I just feel I need to give back to them because they’ve given thousands to me freely to me be more conferrable at home,” Yerger said. “I just don’t know how to say thank you. It seems so inadequate.”
More information on the Joseph Groh Foundation is available at www.josephgrohfoundation.org.