When Joe Behrle’s family came to visit him at Magee just two weeks after his spinal cord injury, he wasn’t in his room. Searching around the hospital, they eventually found him on the sixth floor, talking away on his cell phone, with blueprints sprawled out across the ping pong table. Joe is a third generation home builder. To him, it didn’t matter that he was dealing with a brand new, life-changing injury. He was going to make sure his projects were completed on time, as promised.
That was back in 2003. Joe was 25 at the time and had been riding dirt bikes with a friend in South Jersey, when he crashed. “I knew right away that I was paralyzed,” Joe says. He had a complete injury at the T-12 level. A chopper flew Joe to Cooper University Hospital where surgeons performed a T-9 to L-3 spinal fusion. He was at Magee for about a month after that.
“It was a full change of life: the realization that life won’t be the same as it once was. It was time to figure out how to move forward.”
Upon his discharge from Magee, Joe returned home to a fully renovated apartment in Media, PA. Groups of friends had torn apart the basement of Joe’s dad’s house to make his own accessible residence. He knows how lucky he is, and that most people don’t have a freshly renovated space greeting them when they get home. Far from it.
So Joe did what he always did. He got to work right away, just with a twist. Since he could no longer work out in the field, Joe took over the business end of Behrle Construction, swapping places with his dad, who returned to site work. Immediately, Joe made it a priority to help people who needed accessible home renovations. Behrle Construction now makes it a priority to help people who need accessible home renovations.
Helping a family in need of a ramp
He remembers a young couple named Stef and Ethan. A mutual friend reached out to Joe, initially just hoping he could act as a mentor and guide Ethan through the new and uncertain world of spinal cord injury. Joe did that and much more. He spearheaded a project to add a much-needed ramp to Stef and Ethan’s home. Through his long list of generous contacts, Joe was able to get the materials donated.
“It makes me feel good to be able to give inspiration to someone when they don’t know what to expect. I pull up in my Jeep Cherokee, jump out, put my chair together, and I get into their house. It helps them see that life isn’t as tragic as it seems right now. You’re not restricted just because you’re paralyzed.”
When he has some free time, it’s a safe bet you’ll find Joe in the great outdoors, hunting, off-roading, four-wheeling, boating, or trap shooting.
“I’m out there doing more than almost all of my friends,” Joe says with a laugh.
In January, the Home Builders Association of Chester and Delaware Counties honored Joe with its Community Service Award. “Being able to help where I can is really nice,” Joe says. “From when I got hurt until now, people have called on me because of my expertise, and it’s allowed me to be an inspiration to them, to show them they’re not limited.”