Muir High to honor inspirational graduate
ALTADENA – Victor Wright says he’s thought about his final moments on the football field every day for the past 30 years.
It was the second game of the junior varsity season, and John Muir High School was trailing visiting St. Francis with 4 1/2 minutes left until halftime.
Muir’s quarterback threw a 50-yard pass on third down, and Wright watched as a St. Francis defender plucked the ball from the air for an interception.
A 15-year-old running back who also played linebacker, Wright said he didn’t think twice before going for a tackle he had made many times before.
“I tried to hit the guy squarely,” he said. “But I knew when I made impact with him. I felt the contact on the left side of my helmet. It felt like a lightning bolt hit me.”
Wright never got up again.
“When I got injured, I was young and healthy and strong, ambitious. I had dreams and goals,” he says of life before the accident. “Just one split second changed everything.”
The 45-year-old Altadenan has lived as a quadriplegic for the past 30 years, paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe without the aid of a respirator.
On Jan. 18, the John Muir High School Alumni Association will host Victor Wright Night in the school’s auditorium to celebrate a milestone few thought would ever come.
“The doctors thought I was as good as dead,” Wright said of his first days at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena after his spinal cord was severed in two places.
It’s then, he said, that divine intervention stepped in. “The Lord told me that I wasn’t going to die, that people were praying for me, that I was coming back,” he said. “After that I didn’t care what the doctors told me.”
The experts changed his life expectancy to 10 years. The simplest complications, such as bed sores, result in thousands of deaths each year for those suffering from spinal-cord injuries, according to the American Spinal Cord Injury Association.
Wright has had his share of scares over the years. He’s caught pneumonia four times, has had part of his intestines and his entire gall bladder removed, as well as countless skin grafts, bed sores and ulcers.
But he’s never succumbed. To those who know him, that makes him an inspiration.
“He was a fighter, he really just kept going,” said Chuck Malouf, a former teacher at John Muir who has known Wright since the accident. “He had to have a great attitude or he wouldn’t be with us today. … A lot of people would just give up.”
Malouf, who retired in 2005, recalled the story of how Wright spent his sophomore through senior years of high school taking classes from his bed, and graduated both on time and in the top 10 percent of his class.
Malouf also showed his classes a local news story documenting Wright’s Los Angeles City College graduation, which came after 10 years of studying.
Today, Wright spends most of his days and nights in a back room in his parents’ Altadena home. His mother’s bed lies next to his. She is with him nearly 24 hours a day to monitor his breathing and make sure his breathing tubes are not clogged.
Once a week, Wright takes part in a telephone meeting. He’s on the board of a nonprofit called Friends and Family, which raises money for children who were affected by the tsunami in Indonesia. He looks forward to expanding the charity in the upcoming years, and to perhaps getting into real estate.
“I want people to look at me and see that I haven’t given up. I still look forward to living and trying to be happy,” he said. “I think life goes on. It changes – but it don’t stop.”
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By Cortney Fielding Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune