NORTHRIDGE — Six months after he broke his neck trying to save a suicidal woman, Conrad Buchanan smiled a lot and even cracked a few jokes as he left the hospital Tuesday facing life as a quadriplegic.
The 26-year-old former mall security guard and father of two daughters was released from Northridge Hospital Medical Center after a grueling stay that included several operations and intense rehabilitation.
"I feel good," said Buchanan, sitting in a wheelchair, accompanied by one daughter, his sister, his mother and a niece at a brief morning news conference. "I feel so happy that I'm going home."
Buchanan broke his neck Nov. 15 as he tried to catch a woman who plunged six stories from a Sherman Oaks Galleria parking garage.
Officials called it an act of heroism even though the 68-year-old Camarillo woman, Julie Light, died.
On Tuesday, Buchanan said he had no regrets about trying to save Light, who apparently was inconsolable after her husband's death.
"I saw a person who needed help and my first instinct was to help," said Buchanan, who will have a nurse 24 hours a day in his new Long Beach apartment. "I wasn't expecting to come across this difficulty, but I don't regret it at all."
Light's son, Jon, a Camarillo attorney, attended the conference and said his family has been in touch with Buchanan since the incident. He called Buchanan amazing, adding, "Most people wouldn't even consider doing what he did."
Light paused for a brief moment, put his hand on Buchanan's shoulder and said, "We're all moving on, but unfortunately, Conrad has to live with this every day."
Buchanan's mother, Norma, held his hand and said her son has never lost hope throughout this devastating time.
"He's always positive," she said. "Always."
Buchanan said his strength comes from God and family support. He prays for strength daily and feels blessed to have made it this far, he said.
His concern now is about the future and how the athletic, broad-shouldered man he was before the accident will handle life in a wheelchair.
Buchanan, who is separated from his wife, will have round-the-clock care, paid by workers' compensation.
Buchanan has movement only above the neck and, although he has not needed a ventilator for nearly a month, a tube remains in his throat in case the need arises.
"The hardest thing now is how to deal with the world, how to try to cope with this," he said. "It's very difficult."
Dr. Joel Rosen, director of spinal cord injuries at Northridge Hospital, believes that Buchanan's good attitude will help.
It made things easier for Buchanan and the hospital staff during the lengthy stay, Rosen said.
"He's been amazing. He's always been cooperative and motivated," Rosen said. "There were some crises, but he always came through.
"From a medical rehabilitation point of view, he's doing incredibly well," he added.