Benner bounces back

By Christine Moran
Staff Writer

Bob and Ginny Benner at their home in New Britain Township. Bob recently returned to work as chairman of the New Britain Board of Supervisors after he was severly injured in a swimming accident last October.
(Photo: Ophelia Lenz)

NEW BRITAIN TWP. - Bob Benner doesn't look back with regret.

Instead, the 67-year-old chairman of the New Britain Township Board of Supervisors moves forward since suffering a spinal cord injury last October that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Benner was vacationing at the Outer Banks in North Carolina with his wife, Ginny, and two other couples when the accident occurred.

He was bodysurfing in the ocean when he says he "picked the wrong wave."

The force pushed him under, causing him to hit his head on the ocean floor.

"It was something I've seen him do 100 times over again," Ginny recalled. "He put his arms up and rode the wave in. I didn't think anything of it."

The blow didn't knock Benner unconscious, but it did leave him unable to move. He floated to the surface, but lay face down for about 30 seconds in the ocean.

His friends pulled him ashore and a nurse started CPR, while another person ran to call 911.

It wasn't until he was inside an ambulance that Benner said he knew he was paralyzed.

Doctors told him that he is alive because of medical advances, and if his injury had happened five years earlier he likely wouldn't have survived.

Today, Benner isn't just alive; he is thriving.

"It happened, so you go on. You don't dwell on it," Benner said. "I consider it a new starting point."

His wife says if anyone can recover from this, her husband can.

"He will walk again," Ginny said. "His mind is great and his will is strong."

After months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, the healing process has started.

On Christmas Eve, Benner shrugged his shoulders for the first time since the accident.

On July 4, he declared his own independence and began supplementing his feeding tube.

His next goal is to get off the ventilator. Benner isn't too far from it. He can take some breaths on his own. It just isn't enough to sustain life, so he continues to work toward strengthening his chest muscles, as well as the rest of his body.

Benner won't discuss his prognosis with his doctors because he said he refuses to listen to doubt.

"I will get better," he said. "Maybe not as quick as I want, but it will happen."

He credits his faith in God, belief in himself and support from family and friends for giving him the determination to go on.

Even while lying in a hospital bed, unable to speak, the self-employed businessman used an alphabet chart to communicate. He'd answer questions his sons posed regarding the business.

Founder of TBW Industries in Buckingham, a manufacturer of abrasives, Benner, who wasn't thinking about retirement before the accident, said he isn't thinking about it now.

He continues to work to this day.

In May, Benner returned to the board of supervisors. He kept current with the proceedings during his nearly eight-month absence, talking with supervisors and township staff as well as offering input into decisions before the board.

His courage to fight back didn't surprise Supervisor Vice Chairman Robert Cotton, who said he hasn't known Benner, during his 22 years as chairman of the board, to ever "give up or fall short."

He may sit in a wheelchair, said Supervisor Jack Bodden, but his mind isn't impaired.

"His thoughts are crystal clear," Bodden said. "(Bob) has been and continues to be a stabilizing force within the township."

"We're lucky to have him back," added Supervisor Helen Haun.

Supervisor Robert Piccone calls Benner both a friend and a role model with a lesson on life to share with all of us.

"I admire him more now because of what he has endured and how he has risen above it," Piccone said. "We should all be that brave."

Benner lives in New Britain Township with Ginny, his wife of 45 years. They have three children: Lyle, 44; Stephen, 42; and Amy, 30.

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