Life-Altering Accident Doesn't Keep Dustin From Living Life—or Starting a Family


When Dustin Godnick was in a car accident that shattered his spine at age 17, his life changed in more ways than he ever could have predicted.

Godnick says he, like many teenagers, had lost his way. “I was wild,” he says “I had lost interest in sports and school.”

Unfortunately, the wake-up call he needed to get back on track came in the form of a life-changing accident. On February 3, 2001, Godnick found himself in the backseat of a BMW with some friends—all intoxicated. They happened to drive by another BMW, and the two cars began to race. As the cars turned a corner side-by-side, they tapped, and Godnick’s car spun out, crashing backwards into a tree.

Godnick was pulled out of the car with the jaws of life and helicoptered to University of Utah Health. Vertebrae in his neck had shattered and compressed his spinal cord. “Those first few weeks in the Intensive Care Unit were really fighting for my life” says Godnick.

He made it through the ICU and began extensive rehabilitation. However, the damage to his spinal cord ultimately left him paralyzed, a hard diagnosis for any teenager.

The accident made him think about his life and what he wanted it to be, and he turned to University of Utah Health for help. He threw himself into his rehab with Jeffrey Rosenbluth, MD and his care team at the Rehabilitation Center. “They made me believe in myself, and even though I had paralysis, I could still do the things I could do before, just in a different way.”

Since then, he has become a role-model for resiliency, building a life that includes a productive career life, sporting life, and family life.

He is the president of Godnick Investment, a real estate company. He is also the co-owner of Mobility Solutions Inc., which helps customers find equipment such as car and home lifts and ramps, letting him help others with impaired mobility become more independent.

To reconnect with the outdoor sports he loved, Godnick participates in the Technology Recreation Access Independence Lifestyle Sports (TRAILS), which helps patients with spinal cord injuries or disease participate in outdoor sports like sailing and biking.

As a youth, Godnick was a competitive mogul skier, but after his injury he hadn’t been able to find a pair of adapted skis that made him feel like he was really skiing again. The TRAILS program worked with the U of U engineering department to make a set of joystick controlled skis for Godnick that were unlike any others he had tried. “They let me ski down the hill—it wasn’t ‘I was assisted down the hill’—I was doing it and I was doing it independently” he says.

While he loves his career and sports, he says that “the best story is the twins”—referring to his three-year-old daughter and son. The two, Ryker and Sierra, were born after he received fertility treatment from the Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine.

He is so thankful the fertility clinic has let he and his wife become parents, and he loves taking care of his kids and traveling with his family. “There are a lot of things you can’t do in a chair, but being a father isn’t one of them,” he says.

His resilience and positivity are awe-inspiring, but he says he couldn’t have done it without U of U Health giving him the treatment, tools, and support he needed to achieve independence.

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