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Special Report: Inspiration On Wheels - KOAM TV 7

Special Report: Inspiration On Wheels

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Part One:

A Crawford County Kansas man has just passed a remarkable milestone -- 60 years since a life-altering experience. KOAM News told his story in a two-part report.

It takes technology, ingenuity, and plenty of get-up-and-go for Jim Rhodes to get up -- and go.
The process starts early -- often before dawn. Jim's daily ritual of preparing to leave his bedroom involves a motorized, remotely controlled device suspended from a rail that runs along the ceiling. It lifts Jim from his bed, then lowers him into his motorized wheelchair.
Putting on a pair of pants takes more than twenty minutes. Carefully wrapping his feet takes twenty more.
The final step in this two-hour process -- putting on shoes that will never touch the floor. Slip-on shoes would be simpler, but Jim prefers laces.
"If I quit tying them, I wouldn't be able to tie shoes." Jim says. "Everything I can do, i want to do."
Jim does it all alone, by choice.
"I do not accept help very well. If I can do it, I'm just gonna do it. I'm just tenacious," Jim says, gritting his teeth. "I'm just determined to do it."

Jim grew up a hard-working, hard-playing country boy, until a car crash at age 16. Jim lost all use of his legs and had only limited use of his arms. That was in 1958. Jim wasn't supposed to live long. but....
"I just had a darn thing in me that just kept pushing me," Jim says.
Jim went on to attend college, work in lumber yards, sell antiques, hold rental properties, and help raise two daughters. Through it all, Jim believed he would walk again -- until 30 years of effort toward recovery was undone by a second car crash in 1989.
"That done it," Jim says. "That was it. I lost. I mean I just lost."

In 2013, Jim lost again. Cancer took his wife Donna the day before their 33rd wedding anniversary.
"When I lost my Donna I could be alone in a crowded room," Jim says, then pauses. "That was the hardest thing that ever happened to me."

Jim arrives early for his physical therapy appointment
"I'm ready to get worked over," he says.
"It's something in me that's just kind of a like a booster battery I got in there," Jim says. "If i get down a little bit, boy it'll kick in and get you going again."
Jim chuckles and winces as his therapist massages the muscles of Jim's legs, arms and neck.
Jim has full sensation throughout his body, but takes no medication stronger than Tylenol. Jim says pain is simply a reminder that he's alive.
This bi-weekly PT session is his only treatment.

"In the face of all this, he has never really lost hope or quit planning," says Dr. Kathleen Sandness, Jim's personal physician for decades. "He sees all the things he can do and not a lot of the things he can't do, which is amazing. I mean we have so much to learn from him."

"If you can do it, you should do it," Jim says while driving his customized van along highway 69. Jim drives like a man in a hurry to get on with life. "I'm kinda used to just go, go go."
Jim shops for groceries the same way. Jim races from one grocery isle to the next, while periodically checking the grocery list on his cell phone.
He carries a shallow cardboard box on his lap. He'll buy no more items than his box can hold.
Jim has a wide circle of friends and family who would gladly do much of this for him -- if Jim would let them.
"It's all a challenge every day," Jim says. "It's good. Everybody ought to have a challenge every day, you know?"

"If you see Jim and what he has accomplished with his life, you can't feel sorry for yourself," Dr. Sandness says. "You can't say I can't. You can say I won't. But you can't say I can't."

At the cashier counter, Jim politely declines an offer for help. Jim rolls to his van carrying the newly-purchased items in his lap. Jim has somewhere else to go next; then somewhere else after that. He has no time to waste. He'll have to complete his tasks before 7:00 pm, when he'll begin the three-hour process of preparing for bed.

"Don't always take the easy way," Jim says. "Because if you can do the hard way, you've always got the easy way to fall back on. Don't give up something because it's hard."

To Contact Jim Rhodes: jimrhodes1493@gmail.com

Part Two:


Before Chris Williams raised chickens on his two-acre lot in Crawford County, Kansas and before he got into computer repair -- there was the pickup rollover.
Chris was the passenger and was thrown 100 feet. .
"That was June 24th, 2000," Chris says. "I was 26."

Before Tom Dayton became an experienced hand at Pittsburg's Pittcraft Printing Company owned by his family, and before he learned computer billing -- there was the diving accident.
The pool was only six inches deep.
"I was hurt June 26, 1976," Chris says. "I was 19."

Before Jim Rhodes shared advice and research by phone and computer to help the disabled -- there was the car crash.
A carbon monoxide leak caused Jim to pass out at the wheel.
"January 27th 1958. 16," Jim says.

These men share a friendship and a lot more. Their accidents left them with no use of their legs and only limited use of their arms. The medical term is "incomplete qaudriplegia." Now, as the three men roll their powered wheelchairs into Chris's living room, they have plenty to talk about.

"I mean we've had pretty good lives,"' Jim says. "But we've overcome problems you know? And keep going. You sorta gotta keep going. I mean you feel like you have to don't you?"

Tom nods in agreement. Tom was just a teenager, struggling with rehab, when Jim reached out to him. By then, Jim had been in a wheelchair for nearly 20 years.
"He was a tremendous inspiration in my life at that point and really helped me through a lot of hard times at that point," Tom says. "He inspired you a lot. You thought, well if he can do it, so can I."

24 years later, Chris had his accident and again, Jim was there. Jim offered both moral support and practical advice.
"I'd wonder how to do this or how to do that and he'd send me a link to a handicapped forum," Chris says. "Jim, he's been around."

The three men share stories about their past and present and their plans for the coming years. They laugh often.

"He's instructed all of us who have cared for him how to do a better job of caring for him and people like him," says Dr. Kathleen Sandness, Jim's long-time physician.
Sandness is at the clinic where she works as she reflects on what a rarity Jim is. Sixty years ago, the life expectancy for a quadriplegic was short. But that's changed. Long, productive lives are becoming more common -- in part, because of advances in medicine and equipment -- and in part because of people like Jim, who've shown the way.
"I think that we really do know that optimism really does increase people's life spans," Sandness says. "Joy, laughter, and he's incorporated all those things into his life."

"I enjoy life," Jim says. "If i didn't have a good life I wouldn't be so crazy about living it."
"It's just amazing," Chris says, referring to his older friend beside him. "I'm just glad to know there's someone else in a chair that has lived as long as he has and it gives me something to look forward to."
"I feel like I can probably never repay Jim for what he did for me," Tom says. "But just by passing his example on to others and trying to reach out to others like he did for me is a way of showing Jim how much I appreciate what he did for me."

When the meeting of these three friends ends, Chris will get back to tending to his chickens.
Tom will get back to tending to his customers.
Jim will get back to tending to the concerns of others just like them -- just like all of us -- who sometimes need a reminder -- that what keeps us rolling isn't just the power of our limbs, or even wheel power. Sometimes, it's willpower.

"I'm not gonna quit doing everything that I can do," Jim says. "No, I'm gonna not quit. People have to see that there is still life, and I've had a good life,"
Jim repeats the phrase. "I've had a good life."
"If I can go on and on," Jim says, "I think that people will see that it can be done."

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