Business junior Taylor Janssen was playing beach volleyball with his friends when the accident occurred. He had dived into shallow water to retrieve the ball and hit his head on the rocky, shallow ground. Janssen severed his C5 vertebrae.
That was in July. Monday night, approximately 100 students gathered on the Diag for an evening of prayer dedicated to Janssen, who is currently in intensive rehabilitation, but was released from the hospital Friday and was able to go home for the first time.
Business junior Seth Johnson, Janssen’s friend and fellow Phi Kappa Psi fraternity member, organized the event and retold the story of Janssen’s injury.
“Following that, his friends realized something was wrong so they got him out of the water and notified the police,” Johnson said. “They took him in an ambulance to the University of Michigan Hospital Trauma Center where he underwent multiple surgeries. They weren’t sure if he was going to make it, but eventually he pulled through.”
Monday’s event concluded with a candle-lighting ceremony and a moment of silence in support of Janssen, who was also on hand in the Diag. Afterward, he said he appreciated the encouragement that he has received.
“It’s truly amazing to see all the support and everyone come out,” Janssen said. “It’s been pretty unbelievable the past 100 days, and just to see it all in one event has been pretty unbelievable as well. It’s hard to express what this all means to me. I love everyone that’s here.”
Johnson said Janssen’s recovery has been going well for an injury this serious.
“Normally the diagnosis is full paralysis below the chest; however, Taylor has been showing tricep control and has been doing really, really well in his rehab and showing a lot of strength,” Johnson said. “He’s an incredibly motivated kid and incredibly positive.”
Johnson started a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $150,000 in the first month and has helped sell T-shirts and wristbands with a “Janssen Strong” brand. As of Monday evening, the campaign has raised $157,947.
“Following the accident, all of my friends in the fraternity started coming up with ideas for how we could help him and his family get through this,” he said. “It’s been amazing.”
The idea for the night of prayer originally came from Pastor Jim Mong of the Redeemer Ann Arbor church. Mong said he was inspired by the story and wanted to help show support in the community.
“I went to visit Taylor two weeks after his accident, and they talked about how overwhelmed they were with how much support they’d been getting from the community,” Mong said. “As I walked away, I hoped that as he had that long-term journey that he would have that support long term, so I met with Seth and had the idea of doing it 100 days out to show that the support will continue.”
Looking forward, Johnson said he hopes Janssen continues to recover and is still able to live a fulfilling life.
“My hope for him, in the future, is that this doesn’t impede his ability to do whatever he wants,” he said. “He always wanted to be a CFO, and I hope he can obtain whatever he wants in his career regardless of this injury.”
At the event, Janssen’s father, Mark Janssen, spoke about his the family's experiences during the past 100 days of recovery.
“Early on, we saw an amazing difference,” he said. “He has a ton of strength back — nowhere near where he was — but he has a ton of strength back.”
He also took time to thank all the people who have been supporting his family throughout the entire process, particularly the Greek life community. Janssen said despite his past experience in a fraternity himself, he did not truly understand its importance until now.
“I never got it, really, but I truly get it now,” he said. “I wanted to close with a big thank you to the Greek system. You’ve given such tremendous support, and it truly humbles me.”