Paralyzed man keeps positive outlook

By Stephen Jones


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Photos by STEPHEN JONES | Hattiesburg American

Cindy Mae Dunn, 8, helps give North West Wright his medicine while her mother, Florence Dunn,holds a drink for her brother to wash down the pills during her daughter Summer Ray's birthday party in Wiggins.

Evalyn Simmons cleans out the tracheostomy with a Q-tip the morning of the surgery to close the hole in North West Wright's neck which at one time helped him breathe.

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Fighting back

For three days, North West Wright of Wiggins clung to life while in a coma at Forrest General Hospital.

Wright's family gathered at the hospital, praying for a miracle and hoping he would survive an accident in which paramedics found him crunched into a ball on the driver's side floor of a white 1968 Chevrolet pickup truck

"You wake up one morning and your brother is fine, and you are sitting there talking to him, and he gives you a hug good-bye and says, 'Sis, I love you. See you later,'" said Wright's sister, Florence Dunn.

"The next thing you know, your whole world is torn apart because your brother has been in an accident and he is paralyzed."

When Wright finally gained consciousness, all he could do was grunt and blink his eyes. His head was held tight in the unyielding metal embrace of a halo, a medical apparatus screwed into his skull to help his bones heal.

"Everybody was there," Wright recalled years after the June 10, 2000, accident. "I didn't know what to think. For a little while, it freaked me out."

Wright, 23, is one of more than 10,000 people a year in the United States and about 200 a year in Mississippi who suffer spinal cord injuries. Many don't recover use of their paralyzed limbs; Wright, though, believes he will buck the trend.

Today, Wright lives at Azalea Gardens in Wiggins - a nursing home near his family's home. He is paralyzed from the shoulders down and has no control over his legs, arms and much of his body.

Staying upbeat

Despite that, Wright keeps a positive, upbeat outlook on his condition. After all, Wright and his family said, he has made significant progress from the days just after the accident when no one knew what would happen.

It took a month in Forrest General Hospital for Wright to stabilize enough so he could be moved to Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson for advanced treatment of his injury.

Dr. Michael Winkleman, who treated Wright when he arrived at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, said Wright suffered from what has been called a "hangman's fracture."

Apparently, the top of Wright's head was hit with enough force to crush two cervical vertebrae in his neck. The higher a spinal injury, the more the person's body is likely to be cut off from the brain's control.

Injuries like the one Wright sustained are often fatal. When the victim survives, the spinal cord injury almost always leaves him totally paralyzed - just like it was with Wright's case.