More than money, a multitude of friends makes a man a millionaire, and Lazar Jovic might be one of the richest men in Las Vegas. Joe Limon, who met Jovic about 10 years ago, recognizes his competition. “Laz has so many friends, but I feel I’m his best friend,” Limon says. “He’s been there for me during my dark times.” Now, Limon is returning the loyalty by spending Friday nights with Jovic at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Henderson, where Jovic is slowly making progress from a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed.
From pickup soccer games at The Bunkhouse Saloon to pool parties in the McNeil Estates, Jovic is a fixture in Downtown. The Chaparral High School and UNLV grad is not only a mover and shaker in the scene, but he’s adored for his sharp wit and inclusive nature. Limon says people often refer to Jovic as the Downtown ambassador.
He doesn’t have any brakes. He’s not a planner. He just does things, which I think is the most beautiful part about him.–Sanja Nedeljkovic, Jovic’s sister
On March 11, Jovic and his friends stopped at the Tecopa Hot Springs in California for the Cotopaxi Questival Adventure Race, an elaborate 24-hour outdoor scavenger hunt. He dove into the area’s shallow, muddy waters and hit his head on a rock, rupturing one of his discs, fracturing another and damaging his spinal cord. While conscious underwater, he was unable to move his body. In an attempt not to drown, Jovic bit another racer to signal for help. He was ultimately pulled out and resuscitated by his friend Tyler Fegert and a stranger before Flight for Life flew him to the hospital.
“He’s an active guy; he’s not really a stop kind of guy,” says younger sister Sanja Nedeljkovic. “He doesn’t have any brakes. He’s not a planner. He just does things, which I think is the most beautiful part about him.” Nedeljkovic has been spending every evening with Jovic since the accident and sleeps at the hospital Saturday and Sunday nights. (Their parents take the weekday nights.) She adds, “He doesn’t do anything that [society says] you should do.” Instead, he’s made a career of living life to the fullest—surrounding himself with great friends, relishing time with his family and taking in as many experiences as possible. “He goes to every music festival on the planet,” Nedeljkovic says.
Jovic is also known as “Crayzar.” Case in point: At his roommates birthday party, he strapped on a pair of Rollerblades and skated off the roof into the pool. In addition to being a thrill seeker, Jovic plays every sport possible, from volleyball to table tennis. And he’s competitive, too—an attitude that is working to his advantage.
Jovic is making unexpected progress, gaining movement in his upper body and strength in his core and pectorals. The first time the HealthSouth staff helped him attempt to stand, his blood pressure dropped suddenly and he almost fainted. He fared much better the second time around. Nedeljkovic hopes his self-awareness will aid him in recovery. He meditates and fasts. At the onset of his injury, he wasn’t able to eat. Nedeljkovic says his response was he didn’t need food anyway.
Since Jovic didn’t have health insurance at the time of the accident, he was eligible for Medicaid coverage. This requires doctors, therapy staff and caseworkers to request more time for his recovery each week in order to stay at HealthSouth, where he’s been since April 12. And they have to prove he’s continuing to improve.
I don’t think he is denying it; I think he is choosing to be positive.–Sanja Nedeljkovic.
Despite the horror of this accident, both Nedeljkovic and Limon note Jovic’s carefree attitude is still intact. Nedeljkovic met a woman recently whose husband, a Metro officer, suffered a spinal cord injury from a motorcycle accident. When Nedeljkovic mentioned her brother’s outlook, the woman assumed he was in denial. “I don’t think he is denying it; I think he is choosing to be positive,” Nedeljkovic says. Jovic, whose injury requires years of treatment, is fully aware he could be moved out of the facility at any moment.
The family’s goal is to raise money to pay for his medical expenses and to eventually transfer him to a specialized treatment center such as Craig Hospital in Colorado, which can cost up to $3,000 per day. The community is rallying behind him as well. More than 300 people attended a benefit concert at The Bunkhouse on April 2 and raised $6,000. His family, who emigrated from Serbia (Jovic and his sister were born in Belgrade), started an annual soccer tournament at their church thanks to the help of Zoran Djordjevic, who is like an uncle to the siblings. They also have a YouCaring crowdfunding account set up, which at the time of publication has raised $47,000 (under GiveForward, prior to YouCaring’s acquisition). Just as Jovic has served as the heart and soul of his family and friends, those around him continue to find inspiration in his radiant spirit.
“I had one day after the accident to get it out,” Limon says. “But if he is not crying, I don’t have the right to be.”
To donate to Lazar Jovic’s YouCaring account for medical expenses, visit YouCaring.com and search Lazar Jovic.