Matt Elflein is joined by his daughters, Skylar, left, and Sydney for a family photo.
BELLEAIR – June 2 was a typical Sunday afternoon for Matt Elflein and his friends. They were out boating, swimming and joking around near Three-Rooker Bar, a small island a couple of miles offshore from Tarpon Springs.
What happened to Elflein, 37, in a split second, changed the course of his life.
“I was getting ready to jump off the back of the boat, to sort of do a belly flop, when I slipped,” he explained from his hospital bed at Bayfront Medical Center. “I hit my head.”
Though he managed to roll over in the shallow water, Elflein immediately realized he couldn’t move his legs, and summoned his friends for help. They called 911.
He had broken his neck.
After two surgeries to repair vertebrae and vocal chord damage, Elflein remains unable to walk. He is wheelchair bound, but continues to improve with physical therapy twice a day.
“I now have total feeling in my body,” said Elflein. “I’m making good progress. My doctors expect a complete recovery.”
He hopes to return to his Palm Harbor home at the end of August, and looks forward to spending time with his two daughters, Skylar, 6, and Sydney, 8, and his two Labrador Retrievers.
His daughters have been regular visitors to the hospital.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “To them nothing has changed. I’m still their daddy.”
The girls, however, have questioned the wisdom of their father’s leisure time horseplay.
“They think I’m an idiot,” joked Elflein. “They ask me what I was thinking, goofing around like that. But they are optimistic.”
Elflein has been a carrier with the U.S. Postal Service for 10 years. For the past year he has delivered a Belleair-area route. A self-described “social butterfly,” Elflein likes to chat with customers on his postal route. Since the accident, many have expressed their concern for him.
“They’ve been calling, sending cards and praying for me,” he said. “They’ve been real supportive. It’s nice.”
Those who care for Elflein are helping out by setting up a bank account to help him meet expenses once he is released from the hospital. His sick leave already has run out. He expects to be out of work for at least six months, probably longer, but he is hoping to return to his Belleair postal route.
“It was a fluke accident. I think about it every day,” said Elflein. “It has made me realize how fortunate we are to have a lot in life. We take so much for granted. I never knew how many people cared. This is a lesson well learned.”
An account has been set up in Matt Elflein’s name at the Belleair branch of First National Bank of Florida. Donations are accepted at any branch.