When I was a freshman in college at the University of Colorado, forty-two summers ago, I had a girlfriend from Columbus, Georgia, named Peggy.
She took me home that year to meet her parents and, while there, she told me she wanted to go say hello to her dear friend, Jimmy, and asked if I would mind coming along. I didn’t know their relationship so, with some trepidation, I said sure. And on a scorching hot Georgia afternoon we took off and drove through the town to a community hospital. I thought as we got out of the car, ‘maybe Jimmy is a doctor or something,’ but I refrained from asking. I just felt that if Peggy wanted me to know she would tell me.
As we walked in, everyone at the front desk greeted Peggy as an old friend. “How was college? How’s your mom and dad?” It was clear she’d been here many times before. She kissed everyone, answered their questions and then smiled and said, “Lets go see Jimmy.”
We climbed a flight of stairs and walked down a long hall. Some of the doors were open and I could see patients inside. When we got about mid-way down the hall, Peggy turned into one room and shouted, “Hey Boy!!” As I walked in, I saw Jimmy. He was lying in a bed with a tracheal tube in his neck, weighing in at about 100 pounds, under a thin white sheet, obviously immobile.
II was beyond shocked. And at that moment, I remember being very, very afraid. How do I handle this? What do I say? Should I shake his hand?
It turned out Jimmy was a star on the Columbus, Georgia, football team. After his junior season, he and some friends went for a late-night swim in a pond. A shallow pond. Jimmy dove in, hit a rock and never played football again.
In fact, he never took a step again.
At that time, that type of injury was it for Jimmy. Though he greeted me like a long lost friend, I could see in his eyes that he wanted nothing to do with me. As I said, I knew not what his relationship to Peggy was, but I was standing there with her and he was going to be in this bed for the rest of his life.
I don’t often think about it, but occasionally it comes back to me. And it did as I slept this weekend. The look of resignation on Jimmy’s face was one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen.
But that was then. This is now.
Today, I know young people who have survived horrendous accidents. Young people who have been immobilized by spinal chord injuries from skiing accidents, car accidents and other seemingly innocent endeavors. But today they are filled with hope. Hope that they will walk.
For the first time in the history of man we are on the verge of providing technology to those with spinal chord injuries that will allow them to step up and stand tall.. This is the first generation that may one day look forward to escaping the clutches of their injuries and actually take steps.
So it’s funny how things come full circle. Four decades later, I still remember the “Hey Boy!” and seeing Jimmy for the first time. In some ways it may have shaped what I’m doing now with “The Running Decathlon.”
Help us purchase a bionic exoskeleton suit for the Bridging Bionics Foundation.
Helping someone walk again is as simple as lifting a finger.