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Thread: Getting Around: From this day forward/A wedding completes the circle that brought two spinal-cord-injury survivors together

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    Senior Member Max's Avatar
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    Jul 2001
    Montreal,Province of Quebec, CANADA

    Getting Around: From this day forward/A wedding completes the circle that brought two spinal-cord-injury survivors together

    Getting Around: From this day forward
    A wedding completes the circle that brought two spinal-cord-injury survivors together
    By Don Bosley -- Bee Staff Writer

    Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Sunday, September 29, 2002
    Sixteen years to the day after it began, the devastation of Doug Champa ended.

    The 36-year-old awoke not in a desolate Southern California gully but in a cushy new bed in a cushy new Roseville neighborhood. He was attended not by frantic paramedics and surgeons but by adoring family and old friends. In place of I.V. tubes and oxygen masks: catered jumbo shrimp and champagne.

    Eyes that had cried then over lifeless legs cried now over the unmistakable life radiating from the bride on his arm.

    Sixteen years to the day.

    "For me, September 21 has always been a really good day, because I lived that day (in 1986), I didn't die," says Doug, a T-12 paraplegic. "But I won't think about it anymore, because it's been 16 years, and I've been able to surpass everything I ever worried about. From now on, September 21 will be my wedding anniversary." Eight years after his daughter and his peace were shattered one night on Interstate 5, Jay Donaldson thought he saw them both whole again the other day.

    Eight years after angrily pushing wheelchair patients out of Lori's hospital room, unable to find words yet to tell her she was a quadriplegic, Jay welcomed a paraplegic son-in-law into the family and toasted the health of them all.

    "I looked over at Lori during the ceremony, and -- I swear -- she has never looked prettier," Jay said later. "I mean it. Just so peaceful, and happy, and a big smile. Not a 'picture' smile; it was a real smile."

    Mr. Douglas Champa and Ms. Lori Donaldson were pronounced husband and wife at their Roseville home last weekend before an intimate group that included Donaldson's two daughters, 9-year-old Megan and 4-year-old Samantha.

    The bride wore a stunning, cream-colored strapless dress with matching scarf and a tiara. The groom wore a yellow sweater, a smart blue sport coat, and -- at times -- his emotion on his tattooed sleeve.

    "You know, I forget that about him sometimes -- that he's so sensitive," said best man Joe Hassan. "When he read that poem he wrote, I admit it: I cried. You could hear people sniffling all over."

    Logistically, the wedding changed nothing; Doug has lived with Lori, Megan and Sammy for two years now. Emotionally, on numerous levels, it seemed to change so many things, and the 40 or so guests all knew it.

    "In our situation, you have voices coming at you from every direction," Doug said later. "Whether it's intentional negativity or not, you still get that, 'Wow ... unprecedented ... two people in wheelchairs ... raising two kids ... it must be overwhelming for you ...'

    "Lori and I just don't feel that way. Will this marriage be under more stress than any other marriage? Not at all."

    And so, as vows were exchanged between two spinal-cord-injury survivors, it was significant that the only wheelchair in the room belonged to Hassan, himself a 14-year paraplegic.

    Doug and Lori jettisoned their chairs for the ceremony, another reminder that this particular marriage won't be defined by four wheels. Instead, they positioned themselves together on a wooden bench decorated for the occasion. It was the guests who walked a processional of sorts, migrating from the family room to the living room when Doug and Lori were ready.

    And there they sealed their improbable union, with sunlight pouring through the window and little Sammy delivering fistfuls of rose petals like a softball pitcher to every corner of the room.

    "It was absolutely perfect," Lori would say, days later. "It was everything I wanted it to be."

    Though technically a C6-C7 quadriplegic, Lori does have excellent strength -- along with significant atrophy -- in her arms. She has little control of her stomach or back muscles, however. To stay upright in her wheelchair, she must lean back or prop herself up on one arm.

    On this day, as Lori gazed into the watery blues of her new husband, the unknowing passer-by would have scarcely noticed her hand on his thigh, with elbow locked above it. There was little to indicate that, in effect, one paralyzed limb was supporting another.

    Instead, the more noticeable thing was Doug's hand, with flame and dragon tattoos extending down the fingers, resting tenderly atop Lori's.

    "I really never did see anything so beautiful," said Doug's mother, Carole Champa, who made the trip from Massachusetts for the wedding. Her first tears started falling during an animated clip of "The Lion King" before the ceremony and didn't stop until well afterward.

    It was Carole who primarily cared for Doug, then 20, in the days after his single-car auto accident in 1986. It was Lori's mother, Linda Bacon, who took on many similar duties after her daughter's auto accident in 1994.

    Neither mom, in those days, would have dared to imagine this one. As Bacon helped Lori prepare in the hours before the wedding, adorning her daughter and the house in soft shades of lilac, the meaning of the moment welled up inside her.

    "It was just a feeling of: I know that girl of mine can do anything now," Bacon said.

    The wedding had been originally scheduled for Aug. 3, but the bride and groom fell behind on preparations. They'd just moved into their new home in late May, and the place just wasn't ready to host a wedding in less than three months.

    For one, there was the brick walkway that Doug was determined to lay down in the back yard. He climbed down on the ground and painstakingly dug out the sunken path. He unloaded 50-pound bags of cement on his lap -- 40 of them, one at a time -- and wheeled them to the spot. He mixed up the cement and laid in the bricks. The process took months.

    Delaying the wedding by seven weeks didn't remove all of the stress, however. Ten days before, a routine medical procedure saddled Lori with debilitating migraine headaches. She was ordered to bed rest.

    Seven days before the wedding, the pain became so severe that Doug took Lori to the hospital. That was the same day that workers were scheduled to arrive at the house for plumbing, gardening and painting appointments.

    "It was getting stressful," Lori said. "We still had all this stuff to do, and for five days I had these huge pounding headaches."

    But in the days immediately preceding the wedding, the pain faded. Friends and family began to arrive in town. Some -- like Jeff Powers, one of Doug's childhood friends -- were immediately blindsided by some of their own emotions.

    "For those of us who care about Doug -- who've seen his struggles, who've seen how rocky the road has been -- I know for me, it's kind of a relief, in a sense. It puts my mind at rest to know he's found somebody who's going to make him happy in his life.

    "But I remember when he first met her. And you have the thought (since she's also in a wheelchair), 'Who's going to take care of you?' I was probably guilty of thinking that."

    It's an unavoidable question. Doug and Lori are both 36. When other newlyweds muse about growing old together, they don't usually have to factor mutual paralysis into the picture.

    "Yeah, but think about it," Doug says. "When two people are together and perfectly healthy and young, and the woman looks good in and out of her clothes, and the man looks good in and out of his clothes, then everything's good and it's easy to be in love. But when the body starts to deteriorate -- whenever that is, be it 60, 70, whatever -- you face physical problems and a new look at things.

    "With me and Lori, we're going through that stuff right now. Because of my injury, from age 20 to now, things have gotten better for me physically. Same for Lori, since her injury. We're actually reversing what happens to other people when they age."

    Truth is, the Champas are so confident about their health together that they soon intend to strike out on their next improbable adventure: the adoption of a baby boy.

    They know well the path. In 1999, Lori -- while still a quadriplegic single mom living alone -- adopted Sammy.

    To see the preschooler dancing around the wedding with a garland of roses in her hair, stuffing keepsake petals in the pockets of visitors and erupting with "Happy New Year!" here and there, is to suspect that her childhood has not been hindered much by two wheelchairs.

    Doug had a previous marriage to an able-bodied spouse, in the years immediately following his injury. Lori was married to an able-bodied spouse at the time of her injury.

    Both could have sought and married able-bodied spouses again. It was the expected thing, really. The reasonable thing. The safe thing.

    It just wasn't the right thing.

    "Sometimes love is blind," Doug says with a shrug. "In this case, it's also paralyzed."

    A half-hour after the ceremony, Doug's mother watched quietly from an adjacent room as her son laughed loud, hoisted a jumbo shrimp with his wife and threw off one anniversary date for another.

    "I think," Carole Champa said, "it's a case of: I'd rather be with you and have it be difficult than be with anyone else and have it be no problem."


    About the Writer

    The Bee's Don Bosley can be reached at (916) 321-1101 or


    Newlyweds Doug Champa and Lori Donaldson share a quiet moment alone after the marriage ceremony.

    Sacramento Bee/Bryan Patrick

    Doug and his 4-year-old stepdaughter, Samantha, enjoy some time together before the wedding in the family's Roseville home.

    Sacramento Bee/Bryan Patrick

    Doug and Lori react as they are pronounced husband and wife.

    Sacramento Bee/Bryan Patrick

    "It was once written "To thine own self be true". But how do we know who we really are? Every man must confront the monster within himself, if he is ever to find peace without. .." Outer Limits(Monster)

  2. #2
    Senior Member Erin81079's Avatar
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    Jun 2002
    Bryant, Ar.,USA
    awwwwwwwwwww, now there's a good story .

  3. #3
    Senior Member Tara's Avatar
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    Oct 2001
    BC, Canada
    The Sacramento Bee did a series of articles on this couple. I just read them adn thought that it was really well-done.
    Here is the link:

  4. #4
    That is a great story! Wish them all the luck...

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