FOUNTAIN SPRINGS — Like actor Christopher Reeve, Jenifer M. Bonner believes in persistence. The 27-year-old hasn’t been able to walk since a July 4, 2001, car accident paralyzed her legs. Some doctors said she never will again.
“But my goal is to walk again, unassisted,” she said recently.
A series of fund-raisers are being scheduled to help her. The first of these was a dance Feb. 21 at the Ashland Elks, which raised $1,300. The second is a dance from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday at McAndrew’s Barn, Bear Creek Road, Ashland, featuring the band Self Induced. Admission is $18 in advance, $20 at the door.
There were a number of local organizations that have made donations to make this fund-raiser possible, including the Ashland American Legion, which donated the tickets.
The proceeds will be put into “The Jenifer Bonner’s Rehab for Spinal Cord Injury Fund.” The fund is set up at Minersville Safe Deposit Bank & Trust Co., which has branches in Lavelle, Gordon, Frackville, Tremont and Minersville.
“I wanted to raise money so I could go to different facilities throughout the country that focus purely on the rehab of spinal cord injury patients,” Bonner said.
A trained X-ray technician, she believes intense Physical Therapy may reawaken the nerve pathways leading to her lower legs.
In late summer, she’s planning to travel to Carlsbad, Calif., to try an intensive exercise program called Project Walk. Started by physical trainers Ted and Tammy Dardzinski, its mission is to prove certain spinal cord injuries don’t mean a lifetime in a wheelchair, and recovery is possible.
“That’s what we’re raising the money for,” said friend Mary Agnes Butler, Ashland, who’s chairing Bonner’s fund-raising campaign.
Also behind Bonner is her family, which includes her fiancé, Glenn W. Richards, her parents, Francis J. and Kathleen, brother, Matthew F., and sister, Jessica A.
Thinking back to the accident, Bonner, who’s using a wheelchair to get around, recalled that just three days before it happened, she was skydiving at the Hazleton Airport.
“We were flying somewhere over Drums,” she said.
On July 4, she was at a picnic with Glenn at his parent’s home in Lavelle. She was driving back to her home in Ashland that night when her car crashed on Route 54.
“I don’t remember the accident, but I’m told there was a blowout with my tire,” she said. “The weather conditions weren’t the best. And I lost control of the car.”
Most of the damage was done to the passenger side of the vehicle.
“I wasn’t wearing my seat belt. I was not ejected from the car,” she said. “There wasn’t a scratch on me. I just had a burst fracture of T12.”
T12 is a designation doctors use to identify part of the spinal column’s Thoracic, or T, region, which is located in the lower back.
Five days after the accident, Bonner woke up at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia. Doctors described her injury with an analogy.
“They said, imagine if you squeeze a tube of toothpaste and squeeze the heck out of it,” she said. “That’s how my spinal cord looked. It was not cut or severed. It was just banged up bad.”
The doctors operated on Bonner twice to try to decompress the area and to remove bone fragments embedded in the spine.
“While they dug as much of the bone out as they could, they also went back in to reinforce it,” Jenifer said. “Now I have two titanium rods in my back.”
It was the best those doctors could do.
“They couldn’t give me a prognosis,” Bonner said. “There’s no textbook case anymore for spinal cord injury. It’s just unknown.”
Spinal cord injury patients are like snowflakes, she said.
“Every one of them could kind of look the same,” Jenifer said. “But there’s different things about them that makes them unique.”
Today, she has limited sensation in her legs.
Every morning after she wakes, makes fists, stretches and tries to move her toes, she logs onto the Internet and searches for new places to obtain treatment.
For instance, from Jan. 26 to Feb. 12, she was at the Neuro Institute in Tempe, Ariz.
There, therapists who specialize in Central Nervous System science encouraged her to walk with devices and taught her exercises to do at home
She’s learned to drive again since the accident and, three times a week, she travels to the John Heinz Institute’s physical therapy center in Hazleton and its aqua-therapy clinic in Wilkes-Barre.
When she starts to feel down, she just remembers what Christopher Reeve told her. She had the opportunity to question the “Superman” actor when he visited Hahnemann University Hospital, Philadelphia, in November 2001.
“There were seven people who were chosen to be on a panel and I was among those seven,” Bonner said. And she still remembers the most important thing she asked.
“I have a lot of anger and a lot of Depression and that currently drives me,” Bonner said.
“What happens when I run out of steam?”
“Keep at it. Keep going,” Reeve told her. “Don’t believe what the doctors tell you. Just keep trying.”
©The News Item 2004