Hooking up with San Antonio's Superman
by Amanda GallagherDave Stewart never met actor Christopher Reeve, but the two men have a lot in common: both suffered spinal cord injuries on May 30, 1995 and both have rightfully earned the title "Superman."
While most of the country tuned in to Reeve’s devastating equestrian accident, Stewart was lying in a Cincinnati, Ohio, hospital, wondering if he too would ever walk again.
Stewart was crossing a bridge earlier that day when he hit his head on a girder and slipped. "I tried to grab onto the bridge but I couldn’t reach anything," Stewart said. "I landed on both feet but my legs couldn’t take the pressure."
Stewart’s body buckled; his spine snapped. Five days later he left the hospital with a wheelchair and a long road to recovery. But like Reeve, his pain, his experience and his positive outlook will help scores of others - right here at the Health Science Center.
Stewart will become one of the first "expert peers" in a program developed by Kathleen Lucke, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor of acute nursing care, and funded by the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. ";People with a new spinal cord injury (SCI) have a big adjustment. Friends can fall away, family roles may change and many people feel isolated," Dr. Lucke said. "Our program continues early education and support to help people transition and adjust better."
Dr. Lucke is matching newly injured patients with SCI veterans - mentors who have overcome their disabilities to lead productive and gratifying lives. She’ll connect a nurse and expert peers with participants via the Internet. "We will send each participant home with a computer and the equipment to use it, and we will provide Internet access for the first six months after rehabilitation,"; Dr. Lucke said.
Not only is Dave Stewart an expert angler, he’s an expert peer. Stewart is a paraplegic and one of the first "mentors" in a high-tech Health Science Center program designed to improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries. "You have to keep your body busy. If your body is busy, your mind will follow," Stewart advises. He caught this 6-pound bass at a fishing tournament and he’s already thinking about winning the next one.
The program is the first of its kind in the country for patients with spinal cord injuries and it couldn’t have come too soon, according to Stewart. "I was in the hospital for five days after my injury and in rehab for 21 days after that," Stewart said. "But when I went home, I didn’t know how to do anything. I didn’t know anything about bowel-bladder control or what foods I should eat that wouldn’t upset my system. I only had my family to talk to."
Stewart said he struggled for a few weeks, but took his life back into his own hands. He moved to San Antonio, where he could receive treatment at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System spinal cord unit. Then he resumed his active lifestyle. Being an expert peer is just part of it.
"You don’t have to overwhelm yourself, but you have to keep your body busy. If your body is busy, your mind will follow," Stewart said. "I will get such a great sense of gratification if I can help someone understand this - if I can just get someone off their seat and out of the house to do something." That may be an ironic choice of words for a man in a wheelchair - but Stewart is hardly confined.
Actor Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana, started the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. The organization funds scientific research and quality of life programs. “The Quality of Life grants program is proud to fund the critical work of The University of Texas Health Science Center as they help newly injured persons make the tremendous adjustment to life with a spinal cord injury,” said Dana Reeve, chair of the Quality of Life Committee. “Their work underscores the importance of providing supportive services to people with spinal cord injuries.”
That is exactly the attitude Dr. Lucke wants Stewart to share with other patients. "If we can help patients have fewer complications, they can get back to work and back to their social lives," Dr. Lucke said.
Her Web site and program will be fully functional in about six months. It will be available in English and Spanish. If all goes well, Dr. Lucke said she will apply for additional funding to expand the program, hopefully throughout the country. The Amy Shelton McNutt Foundation already donated to the program after learning of the Reeve grant.
As for Stewart, he said he’s living a good life, although he won’t be satisfied until he wins first prize in the PVA tournament - his own fishing boat and trailer. Until then, he’ll cast a ray of hope in the direction of those with spinal cord injuries - and that alone truly makes him a super man.
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