A network of support

Published: December 15, 2007  |  Source: napavalleyregister.com
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Spinal cord injury sets Napan on track to help others

doc47636fBill Iverson “learned a lot about people” during his 10 years in the saddle as a car salesman. But after suffering a permanent spinal cord injury in 1999, Iverson’s familiarity with the human condition — previously a boon to sales — transformed him into a valuable advocate for men and women with disabilities.

The change came after an unidentified driver cut him off on First Avenue, resulting in a forceful impact that threw Iverson from the ‘63 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible he was driving. The effects of the accident — a broken neck, shoulder and multiple fractured ribs — landed him in the hospital for nearly six months.

“I almost didn’t survive … and I’m lucky I did,” he said.

So Iverson, 54, started the Spinal Cord Injury Network in 2001, after realizing the scarcity of local resources and support groups for people with spinal cord injuries. “There are so many disabled people out there that basically just fly under the radar. … People are left on their own after their accident.”

Iverson said before his accident, he never thought of the challenges or issues that disabled people face — something he recognized in others after he was injured. “Men looked right through me as if I didn’t exist,” he said. “Then I figured out that they didn’t know how to interact with the disabled.”

Bill Iverson created the Spinal Cord Injury Network in 2001 to help people from Napa and Sonoma. Lianne Milton/Register
Bill Iverson created the Spinal Cord Injury Network in 2001 to help people from Napa and Sonoma. Lianne Milton/Register

Today, Iverson spends much of his time coming up with real solutions for disabled people and their families. For starters, he said, re-learning how to get around the house and the community after a serious injury is extremely important — and adapting to getting around in a wheelchair is no easy feat.

The Spinal Cord Injury Network, with the help of Queen of the Valley Medical Center and other organizations, has provided services to approximately 50 people and their families over the past six years, he said.

Iverson’s organization offers a multi-faceted, no-nonsense plan for helping clients. For instance, it provides a peer support group designed to foster emotional and practical support for men and women with spinal cord injuries. Some of the topics suggested by the group include sports and recreation opportunities; Depression, transportation and housing adaptations and more, according to a network brochure.

The meetings, in addition to informational workshops, are designed to help disabled people to hold onto their independence, said Iverson. “It’s been enormous for their families and for paraplegics who suffered catastrophic injuries … and it gives people something to do other than just focus on the injury.”

The organization also offers referrals to other agencies, including the Social Security Administration, Catholic Charities and a host of other groups, said Iverson.

Bill Iverson is elevated into his van. In 2001 he created the Spinal Cord Injury Network, which has helped nearly 50 people from Napa and Sonoma. Lianne Milton/Register
Bill Iverson is elevated into his van. In 2001 he created the Spinal Cord Injury Network, which has helped nearly 50 people from Napa and Sonoma. Lianne Milton/Register

The Spinal Cord Injury Network offers more assistance in the form of funds and resources slated to make homes wheelchair-accessible, he said, adding that medical insurance does not provide reimbursement for ramps, shower modifications and related changes in the home.

Iverson — being a former salesman — knows business. While keeping many worthwhile organizations out of the red requires capital to pay employees, he said, the Spinal Cord Injury Network is staffed entirely by volunteers, freeing up funds for group services. The network’s support group and other services are free, he added.

The organization’s fundraisers, while vital to keeping services available, are not your usual fare. One of them pits local, able-bodied firefighters, politicians and others — outfitted in wheelchairs — against network members in an annual basketball game at Napa Valley College. The “disabled” players have always bested their opponents.

Through it all, Iverson — who said he likes to look at the glass as half full — finds fulfillment by helping others year-round.

“Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean the party’s over,” he said.

By NATALIE HOFFMAN
Register Staff Writer