Local injured veteran beats the odds
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.”
Technology has helped paralyzed veteran Bruce Ericksen increase his independence.