A social worker came to Danny Cox's bedside, expecting him to be completely demoralized after being paralyzed from the chest down in a swimming accident last week.

"I came in to inspire him, but instead, he inspired me," the social worker said.

Many people who have visited Cox since the accident, as well as viewers of online videos of him in the hospital, have been similarly struck by his upbeat energy, despite the tragedy he experienced and the many challenges he now faces.

"I told him he has received a lot of e-mails from people telling how they are inspired by him, and the look on his face told me that he was happy about this," said his mother, Maureen McGowan, the owner of Graffiti restaurant in Petaluma.

Cox, 18, graduated from Petaluma High School in 2010. He was a talented long jumper at PHS, reaching the regional finals, and was planning to start attending the Fire Safety program at Santa Rosa Junior College this fall.

He was with friends, and flapping his arms as he ran into the water at South Lake Tahoe at around 4 p.m. on Aug. 10. He did a flat dive as he reached the shallow water, and felt a current —?possibly from a nearby boat — push his head down into the sand.

"Danny said that there were little waves coming in (toward the shore) regularly, and that he was aiming for them as he dove into the water," McGowan said.

The accident broke his neck, and the bone pushed on his spinal cord, damaging it.

"He couldn't feel anything, and was drowning," McGowan said. "He panicked, and started screaming, but his friend (Chris Sankoff) rescued him."

Three doctors who happened to be at the beach assisted Cox before emergency medical crews arrived.

Cox was airlifted to Renown Medical Center in Reno, Nev., and immediately underwent surgery to remove a broken vertebrae. He was kept in the intensive care unit until Monday, when he was transferred to a room.

Doctors have been discussing how such severe injuries could result from a dive into shallow water.

"At the time of the accident, he still was recovering from a right-shoulder dislocation that he suffered five days earlier. This could have weakened his neck," McGowan said.

Initially, doctors thought that he would need to be transferred next to an acute-care center before being taken to a spinal cord rehabilitation facility.

"But Danny is doing so well that they said he will be able to go to a rehab facility this week," McGowan said.

Plans now call for him to be taken to Kaiser's spinal care rehabilitation facility in Vallejo.

Doctors are not offering any prognosis for his recovery, but say that they should be able to do so within the next year. Cox has feeling in his hands and fingers, but has limited movement.

Family members —?including his father, Chris Cox, step-father, Mark McGowan and siblings —?have been visiting him in the hospital. His oldest sister, Emily Cox, a massage therapist, has been shopping at Whole Foods so that he can eat what he likes.

"Emily's been helping to take care of all his needs. She will be taking the next three months off so that she can move to Vallejo and help take care of him," McGowan said.

Community-wide efforts also have been organized to help Cox and his family.

The Danny Cox Rehabilitation Fund was established, and is accepting donations by mail or in person at First Community Bank, 100 Second St., Petaluma 94952. Stinger Sports in Petaluma is giving away "Team Cox" T-shirts to the first 50 people who donate $50 or more to the fund.

A two-day bake sale in front of Copperfield's Books on Kentucky Street raised $3,100, and a local lemonade stand brought in $1,000 to help Cox and his family. Petaluma Adventure Boot Camp offered to organize a fund-raiser and donate 100 percent of the proceeds to help them.

And Tim and Kasey Gardner, in conjunction with Calvary Chapel, are bringing meals every day to the McGowan's Petaluma home. They already have started providing them, since Sophia McGowan, one of Cox's sisters, is there holding down the household and tending to her 1-year-old sibling while the rest of the family remains in Reno with Cox.

McGowan says that Cox is overwhelmed by the community support.

"It's a lot for him to experience right now. He's amazed. All he says is, &‘Wow," she said.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)