A limit, not an end

Published: March 27, 2004  |  Source: thesunlink.com
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A local spinal cord injury group forms for networking, information sharing.

Pat York always knew he had a bad vertebra and that it could someday spell big trouble.

He didn’t know it would strike so suddenly, with a wave of debilitating pain, and leave him paralyzed from the waist down. That was 13 years ago, when York was 51.

In 1982, 23-year-old Greg Jacobs was a young man out for a good time.

While on a ski trip, he took a spill and crashed into a creek bed. He, too, woke up surprised to find himself permanently paralyzed by injuries to his spinal cord.

York, of Port Orchard, and Jacobs, of Silverdale, are among the estimated 11,000 Americans struck down annually by a spinal cord injury. Eighty percent of the estimated 250,000 people living with a spinal cord injury are male, usually accident victims, and most will negotiate the rest of their lives from a wheelchair.

Jacobs and York were among about a dozen spinal cord injury victims at a recent gathering of a newly formed resource group in Kitsap County that meets monthly at Harrison Silverdale.

It’s loosely organized, chiefly through the efforts of Jacobs and Occupational Therapist Amy Fairchild, and intended to bring people together to share experiences and information.

Jacobs, whose injury left him with partial use of a hand, hopes to create a localized booklet that would list tips about things like driving and air travel, and resources such as restaurants with wheelchair access, and curbside mailboxes.

It’s all about independence, and the group’s most recent guest speaker was Seattle mouth artist Brom Wikstrom, 51, who dove into the Mississippi River one hot day in 1975, hit his head, damaged the message route between brain and body and permanently lost the use of his legs and control of his arms.

The fledgling artist continued to develop his talent, learning to control his watercolor brush with his mouth. He sells his lush geometrical paintings through the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists and a variety of galleries.

He’s traveled throughout the world and even made a painting for the emperor of Japan while on an official visit.

“It’s really kind of amazing. Because of my Disability, my career really took off,” said Wikstrom.

But Wikstrom, like many other paralyzed people who’ve substituted mouth for hands, is beginning to feel stress on his jaw.

Other artists similarly afflicted are using new technology to overcome the problem, he said, and he’s hopeful he can find a solution.

Sharing information about new technology and research advances is also part of the resource group’s goal.

“It’s a way for people to network,” said Fairchild. “What the community needs, the group will become.”

There is specialized Rehabilitation for spinal cord injury victims at the University of Washington, and those injured locally get plugged in there. Jacobs decided it was time for a Kitsap group, to reach out to others who could use some time sharing stories and information with peers, like the best way to make a bed or handle chronic muscle spasms.

At 64, York is philosophical about his injury.

“A lot of people really get down when they have things like this happen to them, but I always knew there was a potential,” he said. “But I miss softball.”

Reach reporter Julie McCormick at (360) 415-2683