Man, 27, Paralyzed From Neck Down After Being Hit by Wave on Holiday

The family of a man who was left paralyzed after being hit by a wave say that the generous support they have received is nothing short of a miracle.

Mateja Maksimovic, of Belgrade, Serbia, was on vacation in Montenegro shortly before his 27th birthday when he was injured by a wave in shallow waters.

The impact of the water knocked him to the sand, breaking part of his spine and leaving him unable to move.

He was unable to lift his head above the water for over two minutes before someone realized what had happened and pulled him out.

Maksimovic, who was paralyzed from the neck down, received emergency surgery before being flown back to Belgrade where he has been recovering at a rehabilitation center and attempting to regain movement.

Vanja Dragutinovic, Maksimovic's godmother, told Newsweek that there has been some improvement in his arms, which he can now lift around 15 centimeters—though he still has no use of his fingers.

"We refused to believe he would stay quadriplegic," Dragutinovic said, prompting the family to reach out to several institutes to pursue treatments such as regenerative stem cell therapy and hybrid assistive limb treatment.

"These are amazing treatment options that offer great hope for SCI [spinal cord injury] patients, but they are incredibly expensive—unattainable, even, in a country where the average monthly income is $500," said Dragutinovic. "We knew that the time was running out and that he should start the therapy within six to seven months after the accident to achieve the optimum results."

The family has identified a stem cell treatment in Germany for Maksimovic that could cost more than $100,000, not including travel expenses.

Dragutinovic, who spent 30 years living in the U.S., started a fundraiser on January 18th for Maksimovic using her international contacts and shared it as much as she could. "Failure was not an option," she said.

The family has been overwhelmed by the response. As of Friday morning, the online fundraiser on GoFundMe, titled "Help Mateja walk again," had received around $65,000 for Maksimovic's treatment from 1,500 donors.

"We are overwhelmed and in a constant state of wonder, humbled, crying a lot of happy tears, and enjoying Mateja's permanent smile," said Dragutinovic. "This is one of those situations when 'Thank you' feels so empty because it doesn't even begin to describe the actual love that has blossomed in this process."

As for Maksimovic, Dragutinovic said: "We are continuously humbled and bewildered by his relentless and positive response to such a life-changing tragedy. He is the strongest of us all."

Mateja Maksimovic
Mateja Maksimovic is seen in a rehabilitation center in Belgrade, Serbia. Maksimovic was injured after being hit by a wave in shallow waters. Vanja Dragutinovic