After near-fatal accident, man gains more than strength at York JCC

On the way to his goal to return to independent living, Joe Fort has improved his strength and mental focus, and found a support system at the York JCC.

Story paid for by: York JCC
Written by: Kate Penn
On the way to his goal to return to independent living, Joe Fort has improved his strength and mental focus, and found a support system at the York JCC. (Video by Jeff Lautenberger for Our York Media)

Joe Fort should have died two years ago.

He was going 60 MPH through York City on his motorcycle when a car pulled out in front of him. He didn’t see it in time.

He broke his arms and ribs, but a CT scan two days later revealed the real damage: Joe suffered a stroke. Doctors performed an emergency surgery, removing part of his skull to relieve the pressure from his swollen brain, but it wasn’t enough.

He was probably going to die that night. At least, that’s what doctors told his parents.

The next day, he woke up. Still, there was little hope he’d survive.

But Joe fought back, and a little more than two months later, he finally made it home.

Joe Fort gets a hand from his caretaker, Christine Milhimes, as he puts on the shoulder straps that support his arms since Joe suffered a stroke following his motorcycle accident. (Photo by Jeff Lautenberger for Our York Media)

Joe likes to tell people he’s “just an ordinary Joe.”

His caregiver, Christine Milhimes, disagrees.

“He’s extraordinary,” she says.

Four days a week, she’s by his side as he swims, lifts, and walks his way to recovery at the York Jewish Community Center.

“The JCC is more than a gym,” she says.

The trainers, staff, and fellow patrons have welcomed her and Joe and made them feel like family. Through each of Joe’s workout routines, from swimming laps in the pool, then enjoying lunch in the lounge area to heading to the weight room, people stop to check on his progress.

They walk away with whispers of “what a great guy,” and “he’s come so far.”

To Joe, it’s an environment that has lifted him up and accepted him as he is.

Joe Fort slips on a pair of flippers at the York JCC pool, where he swims laps several times a week. When he first started swimming at the JCC, Joe had to wear a life vest. (Photo by Jeff Lautenberger for Our York Media)

From day one, Joe has focused on the future.

“I’m not stuck where I’m at,” he says. “I’ve just focused on the fact that I’m going to get better.”

The trainers, lifeguards, and even the front desk staff know Joe’s name. They’ve celebrated his small victories with him — pointing out progress they’ve seen in him even when he’s too close to see it himself.

“They’re part of my support system,” Joe says.

But the victories haven’t just been small.

If I impact one person, everything I’ve been through has been worth it.

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Joe Fort York JCC member

Joe worked out so much at the JCC, that his physical and occupational therapists said he didn’t have to come back.

He’s gone from swimming with a life jacket to jumping straight into a swim lane to complete his laps. He’s strong — lifting four-times as much as he used to on some machines — and can leg press 400 pounds.

And in even more simple ways, he’s able to change himself from the pool to the gym, a task that used to require Christine’s help because his left side was too weak to even hold a towel closed.

After a long workout, Joe doesn’t just feel tired; he feels proud.

Making those physical gains has improved Joe’s mental health, too.

“It’s a huge confidence that he’s gotten now,” Christine says. “His head is held higher.”

Joe’s time at the York JCC has not only made him stronger physically, but he’s found a community of support to provide emotional and mental encouragement to help him reach his goals. (Photo by Jeff Lautenberger for Our York Media)
Joe’s time at the York JCC has not only made him stronger physically, but he’s found a community of support to provide emotional and mental encouragement to help him reach his goals. (Photo by Jeff Lautenberger for Our York Media)
Joe’s time at the York JCC has not only made him stronger physically, but he’s found a community of support to provide emotional and mental encouragement to help him reach his goals. (Photo by Jeff Lautenberger for Our York Media)
Joe's time at the York JCC has not only made him stronger physically, but he's found a community of support to provide emotional and mental encouragement to help him reach his goals. (Photos by Jeff Lautenberger for Our York Media)

As working out at the JCC has become part of Joe’s routine, he’s started to share his story.

It reminds him just how far he’s come and inspires others.

“I’m trying to motivate and encourage people that, regardless of what you go through, if you’re still alive, you’re here for a reason,” Joe says, “and you can achieve your goals and dreams.”

Seeing what Joe has overcome motivates the people around him, including Christine.

They trade off sets in the gym, always adding more weight, more reps, and pushing each other.

“I’ll say if Joe can do this, then I can do this,” she says.

Joe chats with a friend at the York JCC during a workout. Joe spent so much time at the York JCC that his occupational therapist told him he didn't have to return to therapy. (Photo by Jeff Lautenberger for Our York Media)

Joe’s biggest goal is to be able to live independently again. The JCC is helping him get there.

“Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have the JCC to go to,” Joe says.

He’s gaining back that independence, day by day, and celebrating the smaller victories with his support system at the JCC along the way.

And while he’ll be quick to tell you the JCC has been a blessing to him, there are many people there who would say Joe has done the same for them. It’s the smile on his face when he reaches a new goal or the time he takes to talk to those around him.

He doesn’t hesitate to share his own story – of his shortcomings and reckless decisions – because he hopes it saves lives. It could be a young teen who needs to slow down. It could be fellow JCC members struggling to realize their own greater purpose.

“If I impact one person, everything I’ve been through has been worth it,” Joe says. “I think I’ve done that.”

Meghan Hayes, the York JCC Fitness Center Director, encourages Joe Fort during a recent workout. (Photo by Jeff Lautenberger for Our York Media)

Story paid for by York JCC

yorkjcc.org
717-843-0918
2000 Hollywood Drive York, PA 17403

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