Sunday, December 29, 2002

Last modified at 11:31 p.m. on Saturday, December 28, 2002

Â* Jeremy Tavernia, who is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of an automobile accident more than a year ago, takes care of his son, Jeremy Tavernia Jr., on a limited budget.

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HOPE FUND: Paralyzed father is determined to walk, work again
Â* Visit the Hope Fund Web site and donate
By Keri Brown
University of North Florida

Twenty-nine-year-old Jeremy Tavernia has begun a new life, one that is very different from his first 28 years.

Today he's a single father caring for his active 4-year-old son while learning to maneuver in a wheelchair.

The St. Augustine man was paralyzed from the waist down in September 2001 while riding in a friend's truck in Jacksonville on a rain-slicked Interstate 95.

The driver lost control when a rear tire blew. The truck hit a culvert and rolled several times, throwing both men from the vehicle.

"I don't really remember what happened past the rest area except what's been told to me," Tavernia said.

He has heard that when paramedics arrived they found he had multiple injuries, including a spinal cord crushed in two places and several puncture holes in his lungs. The medical staff were not hopeful about Tavernia's prognosis.

And after two and a half months in the hospital, he was placed in a rehabilitation center in Jacksonville. He was released in November.

Tavernia received some money from the driver's insurance company, but lawyer fees and court costs left little to pay toward his medical costs.

Five months after Tavernia's accident, his son's mother left Jeremy Jr. with his father.

"She just couldn't handle it, the changes in our lives," Tavernia said, "It's the best for me and 'little man' [Jeremy Jr.]."

His son has given Tavernia a reason to continue.
"He is my pride and joy," Tavernia said. "He gets me up every morning."

But times are financially tight for the pair.

Tavernia is currently raising Jeremy on $713 a month and about $190 in food stamps. He has electrical and other bills to pay off from when he and his son lived with a roommate after being released from the rehabilitation hospital.

Until Tavernia is able to receive job training, he watches others work on the family farm and wishes he could lend a hand.

"Lots of people complain about getting up and going to work," Tavernia said. "I wish I could go to work."

Tavernia and his son currently live in a mobile home owned by his uncle. Tavernia hopes to begin taking classes at St. Johns River Community College someday and eventually earn a degree.

Although Tavernia's basic medical bills have been paid by Medicaid, he has not had the funds to pay for any extra care.

"I've always said I'd be up walking again if I had [private medical] insurance," Tavernia said. "I have braces that I can walk with in small circles but they aren't the right size, and Medicaid won't pay for another pair for five years."

But Tavernia is determined that he will walk again. Part of his determination comes from the friends he made while in the rehabilitation hospital.

Tavernia struck a bond with fellow patient Billy Howard. Howard, 23, began treatment at the hospital after becoming paralyzed from a fall from a tree.

"I was really down about being paralyzed, so some of the doctors and nurses said I should meet Jeremy," Howard said. "Jeremy helped me realize that I was the same person on the inside, I'm just shorter and sitting a lot."

For Tavernia, helping others is not unusual, but asking for help is.

"I've always been the one who lends a helping hand for people," Tavernia said. "It feels weird for me to ask help from other people now."

The family featured today represents the people helped by Hope Fund donations. This year, the Hope Fund will assist at least 800 clients from local social service agencies. Because so many recipients need the help provided by the Hope Fund, we ask that donations be made to the general fund for equal distribution to participating agencies and not be earmarked for specific people featured in the newspaper.

http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-onlin...11338571.shtml