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Family pins hope on research

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4-year-old injured in 2003 accident making progress

By Lisa Scheller, News Editor

He careens through his house in his wheelchair, zipping from one room to another in a lively game of hide and seek.

Like any 4-year-old, Evan takes delight in hiding in out-of-the-way places. He parks his chair under the dining room table and ducks, staying totally silent, and when discovered, he gives one of the biggest, brightest smiles ever seen.

His wheelchair is complete with wheelie bars that keep him from flipping his chair backward during overzealous rides, and blinking red and blue lights on his chair’s front wheels.

Evan’s days have been busy since the head-on collision last December that injured his spinal cord, leaving his legs paralyzed.

There have been too many visits to various doctors, hospitals and therapists to count. Once a week Cindy, Evan’s mother, takes him to swim therapy lessons in Johnson County. There are weekly visits to a chiropractor in Lawrence.

Their work has made progress. Last December, doctors determined Evan was paralyzed from his chest down.

But now, the paralysis seems to start at his waist and go downward.

There’s hope

Last Friday morning, Evan sat comfortably on the couch sifting through the contents of his mother’s billfold. When he grew bored with that, Evan slipped to the carpeted floor, raised himself with his arms and, smiling as he often seems to do, scooted across the floor.

This gives his parents hope that perhaps his spinal cord injury is healing. Cindy said he couldn’t have done that in the first months after the accident.

“Part of that is just him adapting to his injury and part of that is his muscles are being strengthened,” Cindy said. “That wouldn’t have happened without some sort of Regeneration in that area. We’re hoping it continues to work its way down.”

In fact, on Friday, which was Evan’s fourth birthday, the family planned a party. But in lieu of presents, they asked their guests to donate to the Steve Palermo Spinal Cord Injury Endowment at the University of Kansas Hospital.

In fact, earlier when friends sent money to the Lynch’s after the accident, Dan and Cindy sent those funds to the endowment, as well.

“We saved that money for the longest time, trying to think what to do with it,” Cindy said. “We didn’t just want to spend it, we wanted to do something good with it.”

And, Cindy said, insurance has been a blessing. The driver of the vehicle that struck hers had no insurance, so their carrier, through Tonganoxie’s Evans Insurance, took over.

“John Evans has just been so awesome,” Cindy said of her insurance agent. “Thankfully it’s worked out OK.”

However, she said, even insurance only covers so much.

That leaves the family paying for some of the therapy themselves, as well as half of equipment costs. Evan’s wheelchair cost about $5,500, and his leg braces will be about $7,000.

“But financially we’re doing OK,” Cindy said. “Dan has to work a lot to maintain that.”

Evan wasn’t the only one hurt in the accident, although Cindy’s injuries by comparison, seem minor. Cindy broke an ankle, a wrist and a knee. She was in a wheelchair and not able to stand for two months.

But Cindy’s not complaining, even as she notes she has more metal in her body than she did before.

“I can feel weather changes real well,” she said.

The accident

Although Cindy has driven her son to area cities for therapy, there’s one road she hasn’t taken since December — the highway to McLouth.

The thought of being on the road where the accident took place is too painful to bear.

Cindy’s eyes fill with tears and she reaches for a Kleenex when talking about the life-altering split second when the vehicles hit head on.

After colliding, the Lynch’s car spun around and slammed into a ditch.

Ryan, who is 9, unbuckled his seatbelt and got out to flag down someone to help. Evan, who had been napping in the backseat, out of his car seat but buckled with a seatbelt, stayed where he was. And Cindy, pinned in the driver’s seat in her crumpled car, could not move.

People stopped to help, directing traffic and moving Evan to a nearby car where it was warm. Soon, sirens sounded over the snow-covered hills, and emergency workers arrived. The bitterly cold tragic afternoon wrapped into a night the family will never forget.

When Cindy Lynch was put on a medical transport helicopter, she thought both her boys were OK.

No one told her that her youngest son was unable to move his legs or that he had no feeling in his legs.

“I had no idea until two days later,” Cindy said.

Hope in research

Evan has recently been fitted with leg braces that give his legs enough support that he can stand up.

“We’re going to a doctor in St. Louis who says he should be in his braces six hours a day,” Cindy said.

But that could be an extra challenge, considering Evan balks at wearing the braces.

“He doesn’t like them for 30 minutes now, let alone six hours,” Cindy said.

With the braces on, Evan should be able to learn to “walk” by moving his torso from side to side.

And, Cindy strives to stay up-to-date with the latest information on spinal cord injuries. The Internet has been a valuable information tool for her.

“I heard they’re working on stem cell based research at the University of California at Irvine,” Cindy said. “According to them, they’ll be ready for a clinical trial in 2006.

It would be an attempt to make the spinal cord regenerate.

“I went ahead and e-mailed them,” Cindy said.

And of course she kept up with the late Christopher Reeves and the progress made with his spinal cord injuries.

“You just have to pray it (a cure) comes soon,” Cindy said. “In the meantime, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

That’s what it’s all about, Cindy said, adding:

“We don’t have any choice but to have hope.”

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