Lo­cal in­jured veteran beats the odds

Serve Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Stacy Thomas

At the on­set of the hol­i­day week­end, as prime seat­ing for pa­rade routes were be­ing staked out and the typ­i­cal pa­tri­otic decor be­gan to adorn porches and store­fronts, I set out for the Cen­tral Utah Vet­er­ans Home to in­ter­view a veteran. On ar­rival, I was di­rected down var­i­ous hall­ways where I passed by sev­eral res­i­dents with smil­ing faces and re­ceived warm greet­ings from the at­tend­ing staff. I found my way to the room of Bruce Erick­son, who was vis­it­ing with his wife Deb­bie. I was pre­pared to hear a few war sto­ries, or even a “good old days” mem­ory of when boot camp was more like boot camp be­cause it was an up­hill-both-ways-in-the-snow kind of boot camp. The story Bruce shared with me con­firmed he is a veteran both brave and re­silient but not at all what I ex­pected.

Bruce and Deb­bie mar­ried in 1970, the same year Bruce joined the mil­i­tary. He started in the Army, then trans­ferred to the Air Force and then the Navy Re­serve. He put in a to­tal of 15 years of ser­vice rang­ing from mede­vac, VIP air­lift and fleet sup­port through­out the U.S., Europe, and the Mediter­ranean. Bruce spent the next 17 years pi­lot­ing com­mer­cial flights and rais­ing a fam­ily. Their chil­dren grew, started fam­i­lies of their own and be­gan to set­tle in Utah. A long-awaited re­tire­ment had fi­nally come for Bruce and Deb­bie and the grav­i­ta­tional pull of fam­ily and, of course, grand­chil­dren led them to Utah as well. They chose to set­tle down in the beau­ti­ful com­mu­nity of Tim­ber Lakes just east of He­ber.

It was at their home in June of 2007 where Bruce was in an ATV ac­ci­dent. Deb­bie and her brother were nearby when the ac­ci­dent oc­curred. When asked how they at­tempted to re­vive him, Deb­bie cheer­ily replied, “My brother gave him a good slap!” De­spite their ad­mirable abil­ity to re­call even the dark­est of mo­ments with rev­elry and hu­mor, the re­al­ity was grim. Bruce’s in­juries were se­vere: paral­y­sis from the neck down. He spent three months in hos­pi­tals, but no im­prove­ment was made. Bruce was re­leased still in crit­i­cal con­di­tion; he was sent home to die. The best es­ti­mate was five months.

Deb­bie did not have a med­i­cal back­ground; she had taught art to ju­nior high stu­dents as well as early-morn­ing sem­i­nary. Per­haps it was her cre­ativ­ity and faith that car­ried her past the five-month es­ti­mate. Un­der her care, Bruce slowly came off the ma­chines and be­gan to get well again. They found a wheel­chair that, with a few mi­nor ad­just­ments, he could op­er­ate on his own as well as a de­vice that

al­lows him the use of the com­puter.

Those ad­di­tions were just the be­gin­ning. I lis­tened in awe as they de­scribed one adap­ta­tion and in­ven­tion af­ter an­other, each con­tribut­ing to Bruce’s in­de­pen­dence. The most in­ge­nious of these is a toy-hauler/mo­torhome altered to al­low Bruce safe travel. They went ev­ery­where: Zion Na­tional Park, Mount Rush­more and Yel­low­stone, to name a few. Deb­bie de­scribes Bruce rolling about in his chair ex­plor­ing on his own. Child­like mis­chief re­quired that they at­tach a large flag to the back of his chair to keep an eye on him. Bruce fondly re­called a mem­ory of his chair mal­func­tion­ing and flip­ping him up­side down. His wife ar­rived to give aid. Bruce warned her not to laugh at him. She laughed, and then she went to work re­pair­ing his chair.

Deb­bie served as her hus­band’s care­taker for more than six years be­fore he be­came a res­i­dent of the vet­er­ans home. Their abil­ity to see the pos­si­bil­i­ties is noth­ing less than in­spir­ing. In Bruce’s words, “I can­not lament over what I can no longer do. I look for what I can do.”

Steve Parsons

Tech­nol­ogy has helped par­a­lyzed veteran Bruce Erick­sen in­crease his in­de­pen­dence.

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