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Thread: An Oregon Tale

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2005

    Lightbulb An Oregon Tale

    An Oregon Tale (Part 1)

    By John E. Smith, Guest Writer, 3-27-07

    RECENTLY MY OLDEST son, Noah, graduated from the University of Oregon. He wore the traditional cap with tassel as a concession to his mother’s prodding. The gown, however, bothered him. Where the hell did the long flowing folds belong? He opted to go without, etiquette be damned. In its place he put on a bright pink shirt with striped tie. If you are going to draw attention, you may as well shine. As he proceeded forward amidst the other students draped in black, he glowed like an orchid in a bed of coal.

    When the Provost announced Noah’s name, a loud cheer interrupted the decorum. The ovation celebrated an effort occurring parallel to the academics. These were his fans. They rightfully claimed a moment of brazen discourteousness. My resistance to the incessant urge for a feel good moment, about a story that has never felt very good, wavered. I allowed myself a smile.

    The school’s president, Dave Frohnmayer, paused momentarily for order, then shook Noah’s hand. He got the diploma. But my wife, his brother, and I — and his fans — all graduated with him. Noah received a BA in Spanish, summa cum laude. He would have preferred that moment to be remarkable for other reasons, but of the 1000-plus graduates, he was the only one in a wheelchair.

    Noah Smith, graduating from the University of Oregon; the only graduate in his class in a wheelchair.

    EACH YEAR THERE are 11,000 spinal cord injuries in the United States. Of those 11,000, more than 58 percent, or approximately 6,400, are between the ages of 16 and 30.

    Most of them — 78 percent of those, or roughly 5,000 — are men.

    The number of people who are alive in June 2006 with a spinal cord injury (SCI) is estimated to be 253,000. Those numbers will grow in succeeding years as the causes of death due to complications are delayed.

    Currently, spinal injured men and women approaching middle age are the first generation of SCI individuals to live relatively long lives. The reasons are diverse but generally speaking, improved medical practices mitigate the problems associated with urological management, respiratory ailments, and skin care. Today’s younger generation who are experiencing spinal injuries may look forward to 30, 40, even 50 or more years of life with paralysis. Many of these would exclaim, tongue in cheek, “Whoopee!” And yet — it beats the alternative.

    Only 52 percent of all SCI individuals are covered by private health insurance at the time of injury. That percentage is much lower among the 16 to 30 year old age group to which Noah belongs. The first year expenses for low level quadriplegia, such as my son’s, average $478,000. Subsequent years are approximately $54,400.
    More of this article by moderator John Smith on link at top

  2. #2

    Thumbs up

    Congratulations Noah, John and all. A job well done. I wish I could have been there. To finish John's article from the link in the above post, thanks Leif for pointing it out:
    His life expectancy with such an injury is 40.6 years, or about 18 years less than that of others his age that do not have an SCI. If you do the lifetime math the costs related to his injury come to $2.2 million, plus the first year’s cost, give or take a few hundred grand.

    These estimates do not factor in the likelihood of increased longevity anticipated by today’s generation. Nor do they include indirect costs such as losses in wages, fringe benefits and productivity. According to the University of Alabama injury information network, “These average about $60,000 per year in March 2006 dollars, but vary substantially based on education, severity of injury, and pre-injury employment history”.

    The costs are staggering and this burden is borne primarily by Medicaid and Medicare. If you dare to proceed with the math, you soon reach 12 digit numbers over the course of my son’s life for he and his peers in the exclusive club of the spinal cord injured. The final figure is somewhere in the neighborhood of what four years of an ill-conceived war costs, just for palliative care.


    WHEELCHAIRS, SO AGILE on smooth surfaces, are awkward on grass. Noah’s little brother Ike, all 6’5” of him, helped negotiate the uneven terrain of the outdoor venue. They are both former ski racers. Together they slalomed through the horde of graduates and family clogging the narrow aisles.

    They learned to ski and race on the slopes of Mt. Hood where I volunteered with the National Ski Patrol. From that activity we received a family pass at Cooper Spur Ski Area. For several years we made “first tracks” and then cleared the slopes at day’s end. They became wonderful skiers.

    Their skill and daring developed under the tutelage of local legendary ski coaches, Bill Cimock and Victor “The Inflictor” Roy.

    Noah, a member of the 1996 Oregon State High School Championship ski team, is not skiing these days. Ike, who showed promise as a Junior Olympic competitor, stopped racing to pursue his passion for freestyle. He now prefers to jump off cliffs. He also made an imposing bodyguard amid the throng at the summer commencement.


    We crammed ourselves on physiology and anatomy. We learned the foreign languages of disability rights and neuroscience. We became students of advocacy. Education would not cure our son. But our vigilance to become informed gave us a respite from the bedlam.

    The healing is a stew of adaptation and bodily repair seasoned with plenty of resignation. It is unique for each person and family with a spinal injury. Universally, however, it is ugly. You curse social services, medical practitioners, politicians, and your loved ones. You experience a cornucopia of incontinence, pain, and shattered dreams. The negatives rule for a long, long while.

    • • •

    Part 2 of this special guest article, "An Oregon Tale", will appear on New West Columbia Gorge on Wednesday. HERE

    • • •

    John E. Smith, a husband, father, writer, and area postmaster is from Hood River, Oregon. Smith writes commentary on disability issues and scientific research relating to paralysis. He also advocates for the spinal cord injured community and, by extension, for those living with any neuro-degenerative condition. Smith blogs about his book-in-progress here.

    Photo Credits: John E. Smith, Joey Gottlieb, Scott Conerly, Nikki Guerra and the incomparable Scott Pruett on the Think Pink pics
    Tragedy turned to Success, we can all be proud. I hope the World is paying attention.
    Last edited by john smith; 03-28-2007 at 09:59 AM.

  3. #3

    Thank you for adding more of the text. However, I cut some out, indicating where with a <snip>. It is important for the publisher that the "Tale" be linked and read on their site. A courtesy of copyright.

    BTW, in case viewers have not noticed. Scott Pruett is credited along with other photographers for assisting with the pictures. My personal thanks to him.

    "Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence." Lin Yutang

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    John. You do good to put SCI on the agenda, also how tings are and could be in life. Positive good luck is hereby sent to all involved.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains
    Well if I were Noah.... I would have picked that pink shirt too!!!!

    This just makes my day... Just from a parents perspective, it must feel wonderful. Throw in the SCI and he is surely going to do great things...

    You never know how many people reading this story have been motivated that they can live through tragedy too. Inspiration is sometimes an overused word according to the CC crowd but you never know how many people his story has touched and blessed.

    I am ecstatic for your family John....
    T12-L2; Burst fracture L1: Incomplete walking with AFO's and cane since 1989

    My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am. ~Author Unknown

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Quadvet. Great for highlighting the story, I am not familiar with John as such, he is one of the good guys, like many here, but, just found the article, and thanks for posting the other part of the write up by John (screw copyrights for good articles lol). To me it seems like there are some bonding throughout the SCI community after all, regardless our differences in opinion etc. Believe we are on the same ship, having to make the ship, ship shape. And not a word about skiing here now, not one! (summer is knocking on the door, still?)
    Last edited by Leif; 03-28-2007 at 08:01 PM.

  7. #7
    Everybody be sure to click the link that says "Isaac jumps off cliffs". Noah is so impressive I sometimes feel slightly sorry for his huge little brother, who is yet another exceptional Smith boy but we notice him less as he's a big strapping AB guy. That treetop kid is more comfortable on skis than I am on wheels, or ever was on foot!

    Thanks for the article, John. It really is excellent.

  8. #8
    Thanks John, I missed that point. I do hope others read the complete article. Great links also, you're right Betheny.

    I think Leif put it well:

    "Believe we are on the same ship, having to make the ship, ship shape."
    Posted by Leif
    Leif; John and Noah live only a bit from me, yet I know them only as well as I know you. I don't read the local paper, listen to the local radio stations or television broadcasts. So, I'm glad you posted this article.

  9. #9

    We are going to meet, eventually and I will get pictures of our ugly mugs.

    HERE is Part Two of An Oregon Tale.

    "Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence." Lin Yutang

  10. #10
    Made me cry, John. Kinda highlighted why I think so highly of Ike, also. Treetop kid is strong, and kind.

    LOVE the kayak picture!

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