It's been a difficult year for the Haynes family.
Last summer, Paul Haynes, a tall, athletic man in his mid-60s, suffered a life-altering accident at the 34th Street beach in Ocean City.
A wave knocked his feet from under him and slammed him onto the ocean floor, fracturing several of his vertebrae and rendering him quadriplegic.
Since the accident, his wife, Jeanne, has stepped away from most of her duties as musical director at Moorestown High School. After 23 years at the helm of Moorestown's lauded music program, she will officially retire at the end of this school year so she can continue to aid her husband in his recovery.
Her students want to help.
On Sunday, Moorestown music students and alumni will hold a benefit concert at the school to raise money and awareness for the Paul T. Haynes Foundation, an organization the family started to assist spinal-cord injury patients.
"Mrs. Haynes has been an inspiration as a teacher and a second mother to many of us," said Nicole Olbrich, a Moorestown senior who will be singing in the concert. "She's always been there to help us."
Michaela Anthony, 23, the interim musical director, is organizing the show.
"We knew that we needed to honor her career and support her family," she said. "We are very concerned for Mr. Haynes."
Paul Haynes is home now, after months of hospitalization. He is upbeat and determined and attending rehabilitation sessions.
"Hope is the most important thing," he said the other afternoon, sitting in the den of his Mount Laurel home with his wife at his side.
"You can't go back and change the accident," added Jeanne Haynes. "The choice is to wallow in it or move forward. We're moving forward."
The accident occurred on a sunny Saturday last July. Haynes was waiting for his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter to join him at the beach. The water was rough, but not overly so.
"There were hundreds of people in the water," he said.
Haynes, 66, is a big man with a big laugh. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, he played tackle for the Clemson University football team and earned the Bronze Star after enlisting during the Vietnam War. At the time of his injury, he was fit, working out at LA Fitness most days. He planned on golfing that afternoon. He was working sales for an energy-efficient lighting company.
He was standing in water not up to his waist when a series of forceful waves came in. He tried ducking under one and it spun him, driving his chin into the sand.
"I couldn't move anything, and I thought that was it," he said. "I had the presence of mind not to swallow any water. I could see the sun shining through the water."
Haynes was carried to shore and transported to the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, which each summer treats about 15 to 20 spinal-cord injury patients hurt at regional beaches, said Ravi Ponnappan, a trauma doctor in the hospital's neurosciences institute.
Jeanne Haynes was home that day, preparing for the closing night of a Moorestown summer play she was directing. Her son delivered the news and drove her to the hospital. Doctors said her husband might never breathe again on his own.
After multiple surgeries at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and months of painful rehab at Magee in Philadelphia, Haynes can now move his arms. He can also wiggle his toes and move his ankles, which means signals are traveling from his brain to his lower extremities.
"He's getting stronger the last few months, physically and mentally," said Haynes' son, Colin, 31. "He's getting back to his old self, cracking jokes, being jovial."
"Nobody can predict if functional movement will ever return," added Jeanne Haynes. "Every injury is different. Every patient is different."
The Haynes family is coping with the realities of caring for a permanent injury patient.
They have health insurance, but the bills pile up. They renovated their home to accommodate Paul Haynes' wheelchair, installed a ramp, and bought a van so they could get to rehab easier. (Relying on county transportation services usually stretched therapy days out from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.)
Home nurses are needed and the insurance company doesn't cover the expensive rehab machines Paul needs to continue his recovery.
"Every time I reach a goal in rehab, they introduce me to a salesman," he said with a frustrated laugh. "It's a vicious cycle."
"We are lucky to have the support system we do," he said of his four children and extended family and friends. "Some people don't have that."
At Moorestown High School, there is a sign-up sheet in the teachers' lounge to bring meals to the Haynes' house, and colleagues bought a piece of hospital equipment needed to help Paul Haynes get in and out of bed. One coworker even stopped by to look after the gardening.
"The school has been wonderful," said Jeanne Haynes.
Students have been rehearsing for the June 6 benefit in Haynes' old choir room. They will perform numbers from the many musicals Haynes has directed over the years, which is just about everything from Les Miserables to Oklahoma! to Carousel.
Anthony, the show organizer, is keeping exactly which numbers that will be performed a secret.
"We want them to be a surprise for Mrs. Haynes," she said in excitement.
The school Madrigal group will perform Renaissance choral pieces. The choir will sing "The Irish Blessing," and Haynes will conduct the orchestra in some of her favorite pieces.
Tickets are $10 and all proceeds will go to the family foundation, which is hoping to cover some of Paul Haynes' rehab costs and assist other families of spinal-cord injury patients dealing with the challenges of recovery.
"We're very excited about the concert," said Jeanne Haynes.
The Paul T. Haynes Benefit Concert will take place at 4 p.m. on Sunday at Moorestown High School. For more information, call the school at 856-778-6610. EndText