Jon O’Connor was an entrepreneur, visionary, philanthropist, aviation enthusiast, caring and compassionate person who’s mission allowed him to be a beacon of hope for people with neurological conditions by providing them with a place to continue their journey after their traditional therapy concluded.
At the age of 29, Jon established the O’Connor Foundation to provide financial support to charities such as Maryville Academy, an Illinois orphanage for abused children. His success in the construction business, along with his passion for investing in the markets, afforded him the wherewithal to financially support such charities. Perhaps more importantly, he found time to serve as a mentor to a group that desperately needed one.
Tragically, in July 2001, at his 30th birthday party in front of friends and family, he became a quadriplegic when he hit his head on an underwater obstruction after jumping off a dock. The blow left him with a C4 spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the neck down, leaving Jon with only limited use of his right arm. After months of hospitalization and physical rehabilitation in Chicago, Jon returned home motionless and frustrated that there were no other options in the area to provide him with long-term therapeutic interventions to improve or maintain his function and health. Jon knew and believed that having access to resources that allowed an opportunity to engage in cutting-edge therapies such as gait training, functional electrical stimulation and robotic-assisted exercise programs could greatly impact a person living with spinal cord injury in a positive manner.
Accompanied by his father, Jon spent the next three years looking for rehabilitation answers and alternatives across the country. Jon’s journey crossed paths with that of Christopher Reeve. Jon and Christopher spoke together of their ability to access therapies and the desperate need for others to more easily benefit as they had. Jon’s spirit, work ethic, and drive led him to return home to Chicago with a goal of creating an accessible gym for individuals living with the devastation of a spinal cord injury (“SCI”). In 2004, under Jon’s guidance, a gym was built in Willow Springs to offer low cost exercise therapy to individuals living with the catastrophic consequences related to SCI. NextSteps was created. Jon gave his plan to others in the SCI community who went on to open their own centers around the country.
As word of the gym’s existence spread through the SCI community, Jon quickly realized that there was a greater need beyond the SCI community, persons experiencing and living with chronic neurological conditions also needed access to long-term rehabilitation. In 2008 Jon added a licensed physical therapist to the facility to better serve its clientele by offering aggressive, activity-based exercise rehabilitation options for both physical therapy and neuro-adaptive fitness and wellness programs.
Sadly, in July 2013, the foundation lost its leader when Jon, at the age of 42, unexpectedly succumbed due to secondary effects of his paralysis. Today, the foundation continues to provide affordable, innovative, evidence based rehabilitation and exercise programs for people living with any type of neurological impairment.
To read more about Jon O’Connor click on this link: Chicago Tribune Article.