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Thread: Severed spinal cord doesn’t damper zeal for life

  1. #1
    Senior Member
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    Jun 2005

    Severed spinal cord doesn’t damper zeal for life

    Posted on Sun, Jan. 01, 2006
    Severed spinal cord doesn’t damper zeal for life

    By Nancy Vendrely

    The Journal Gazette

    Fourteen years ago, a 12,000-pound crane boom fell on Jake Lewis. It snapped his spine and partly severed his spinal cord, but it couldn’t break his spirit.

    Then age 34, Lewis was a crane operator, a weightlifter, an avid fisherman and a member of the Gold Rush Band. Determined not to succumb to fear and depression, he was back onstage six weeks after the accident – a paraplegic in a wheelchair, playing guitar and singing. His story was featured in The Journal Gazette on Sept. 19, 1991.
    “That helped me a lot,” he says of his quick return to the stage. “It proved to me that I could go and do things like before.”
    And what he has done is amazing.

    An outdoorsman who was raised to be a worker, Lewis never considered that he’d have to change his ways. He simply found alternative ways to do the things he loved.

    On 33 acres of wooded land southwest of Bluffton, he lives in a three-story, lodge-type house that overlooks an 8 1/2 -acre lake. Panoramic windows and a wooden deck around the second story bring nature close at hand. Deer, squirrels, red fox and other critters are regular visitors.
    It’s an idyllic woodland setting that requires a lot of work.

    “I take care of this whole property, everything,” Lewis says. “When we built this, I cleared all the stuff where the house is and put the yard in.”
    And now he maintains it, operating vehicles and equipment that have been adapted with hand controls and other alterations to fit his needs. He has a small tractor loader with various attachments for different chores, a zero-turn riding mower and an amphibious all-terrain vehicle he drives right into the lake when he wants to go fishing.

    “I’d go crazy if I didn’t stay busy. It’s therapeutic – that’s the way I feel about it. … Yes, I’ve been stuck before and had to call for help. I fell off my lawn mower and called the neighbor to come get me up. … I had a dump truck backhoe for a while and fell out of my chair when I was making the transfer. I was flat on my back looking at the stars.
    “I’ve fell over a bunch of times, but if I want to do something, I go do it.”
    Lewis is quick to credit his friend, Al Grogg, for making much of this possible. He says Grogg is a genius when it comes to designing or adapting things for him. He designed and built the elevator in Lewis’ home. He built a ramp with a platform at the top, which sets over Lewis’ mower so the mower seat is level with the platform.

    “I wheel up the ramp and just transfer out of this (wheelchair) right into the seat of the mower,” Lewis says.

    To give Lewis the freedom to go fishing when he wants, Grogg put a roll bar on the amphibious ATV and put an electric trolling motor that is foot-controlled on the bar. When Lewis drives into the lake, he can lower the motor into the water by operating the control with his hands.

    “The control is right beside me and I can use my hand to steer. I take somebody with me, we set side by side and it’s nice. We can have a conversation and nobody’s griping about getting second water.”

    Grogg also rigged a frame and hand crank for an active-passive trainer in Lewis’ weight room so, after exercising his legs, he can raise the unit up to arm level to exercise his upper body.

    “Al just came out and looked at it and had it all figured out. … He runs a muffler shop in Bluffton but he can do anything. He’s one of the greatest guys in the world.”

    Lewis is no stranger to helping others like himself. As co-founder of the Paralysis Care Network in Fort Wayne, he was on call for several years, helping newly injured people in their adjustment. At home, he likes to use his tractor and scoop to remove snow for neighbors and he even clears the parking lot at Mary Ann Monce’s general store in nearby McNatt.
    “She won’t ever let me come in the store when I need something. She sees me pull in and comes out to see what I want. She’s so sweet.”
    Last summer, Lewis helped some friends put in a pole barn and driveway, but because it was so hot, he worked alone at night.

    To him it’s all very simple.
    “We’re put here to help each other,” he says. “I think everybody wonders sometimes what’s the purpose of life, and I believe it’s to help each other.”

    That philosophy did not evolve as a result of his injuries, as one might think.

    “From my father,” he says. “All the many hours sittin’ on the riverbank, fishin’ and talking about things like that. When I was 18 months old, he was taking me to the river with him.”

    His father’s strong work ethic also has served Jake well.
    “When I was 9 years old, I was pushing an old rotary mower and mowing yards for 50 cents. My dad raised workers. So there’s a passion for doing things.”

    Jake grew up in Bluffton, the son of Flora and James Lewis, now deceased, and has two older sisters. At age 13, he was playing in a cousin’s band in smoky clubs on Friday and Saturday nights and says he was 6-foot-1 with a full beard at 15. Lewis has children from two marriages and a third marriage, after the accident, ended in divorce a few years ago.

    His children, Jamie, Heather, Billie Jo and Jake Shane, range in age from 22 to 30, and he has six grandchildren, with two more on the way. Spending more time with the grandkids, as soon as they’re old enough to be with him safely, is his next big goal.

    Now 48, Lewis is still making music. He was in the Southern Thunder band until it disbanded three years ago, but the group still gets together for four shows a year.

    “We always do the Sweetheart Dance for Bi-County Services (of Adams and Wells counties) for children (with disabilities). We’ve been doing it for 16 years now. It’s my favorite thing.”

    He’s also partial to Gospel OverDrive. This is a group Lewis and his musician son, Jamie, dreamed up. It is strictly non-profit and they play only to help others.

    The band members take care of all their own expenses and any money they raise goes to “anyone that needs help.” It might be a family or an organization.

    In the group now are Jeff Adams on piano, Steve Harvey on drums, Doug Hunt on lead guitar and Jake on bass guitar, and they all sing four-part harmony.

    “It’s really been a blessing. Nobody (in the band) wants any money. … We do it for fun, and we get together every Tuesday night for practice. We get our music fix then, ’cause we don’t play a whole lot.”

    Although Lewis downplays his physical limitations, he has to monitor his condition closely. Skin breakdowns – pressure sores – are a constant concern. He had two four-hour surgeries three years ago when a breakdown tunneled all the way to a hamstring muscle. He had to stay flat on his stomach or right side for five weeks. Again, his friend Al came to the rescue with a specially rigged mirror that allowed Lewis to see the TV.
    “I learned to read the CNN ticker tape backwards,” he says with a grin.

    Lewis also has a burning sensation in his left leg, like a constant electric shock, he says, but medication has tamed it enough that he can bear it now.

    In spite of such setbacks, Lewis’ zest for life remains undiminished.

    What motivates him so intensely?
    “The same thing that would motivate you,” he says. “It’s called survival and the will to go on. You take the cards you’re dealt, no matter what. People say, ‘I don’t know how you do that,’ and I say, ‘You would, too.’ It’s like a failsafe factor, maybe. I think everybody has it.”

    His son, Jake, is living with him now, but he has lived alone and knows he can do it.

    “When people call the house and ask for Jake, we say walkin’ or rollin’,” Jake the younger says.

    As for the future, rollin’ Jake says his attitude is set. Whether working, helping others, playing music or fishing for that next big largemouth bass, he is “totally content.”

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    In your nightmares
    That's nice to hear. I believe my spinal cord was severed as well. Going to have to check.

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