In March 1997, a catastrophe changed Benjamin Pohl’s life. But today he insists the change was for the better.
Two weeks before his 18th birthday, Pohl, of Chicago was in a car accident that nearly killed him. He suffered multiple fractures, including a broken back, and severe internal injuries. A doctor in the emergency room said he didn’t expect Pohl to survive the night.
Pohl lay in a coma for a month. Finally, he regained consciousness.
“It was very scary,” says Pohl. “I had no idea where I was, and I couldn’t remember anything about the accident.”
Pohl spent six months in the hospital learning how to speak and walk again, and two more years in outpatient therapy. Gradually, he began leading a normal life. With encouragement and support from his parents, Pohl completed his final high school credits and, in 1999, entered college at the University of Iowa – while still walking with crutches. He had once dreamed of a career practicing military law with the Judge Advocate General Corps, but now he wanted to major in recreation therapy so he could assist people with disabilities.
“My entire perspective changed during my rehabilitation,” says Pohl. “I’ve been 100 percent dependent on other people, and now I feel a unique bond with people who have disabilities. I have a level of empathy that few can understand.”
After earning his degree, Pohl worked for the next two years as a recreational therapist at a maximum-security prison and a mental health facility. He discovered his real love – volunteerism – when he moved north, to suburban DuPage County, Ill., in 2006 and began volunteering at the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, where he accompanied kids with disabilities on fun outings to ball games, bowling alleys, restaurants and more. A favorite with clients, Pohl has kept up his relationship with the association over the years, sometimes as a volunteer and sometimes as a part-time staffer.
In 2007, Pohl entered graduate school at Northern Illinois University, where he graduated in the top 10 percent of his class with a master’s degree in public administration. He then joined the Peace Corps and spent a year in Jordan, where he trained teachers in special education, with an emphasis on promoting awareness and acceptance of children with disabilities.
Today, Pohl works one week a month for a tech firm in Iowa, and hopes to start a full-time career working for the government in public administration. For three weeks of each month, he spends most of his time back in DuPage County volunteering for a variety of organizations.
While his volunteer credentials are too numerous to mention, he currently serves on the board of directors of the DuPage County Habitat for Humanity. He also does volunteer development work for Celebrating Differences, a group that serves children with Down syndrome. Pohl also volunteers as a journalist, writing newsletters and promotional materials, for Easter Seals.
“After my accident, I had a lot of help, and it’s my way to give back,” says Pohl. “I pretty much came back from the dead. I was given a second chance, and I feel an obligation to help others have equal opportunities. It’s my passion and it makes me feel good. It’s an intrinsic high to help people.”