Club provides man means to drive safely

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Today, Richard Skinner of Nelson can be seen driving his 1972 Chevy pickup down the road just like any other man, but just a couple of months ago that simple action would have been too difficult and dangerous.

Skinner broke his back and right arm in 1976, two days before he turned 16. Since that day, when he rolled down a hill on a farm near Blackwater while trying to fix a 4010 John Deere tractor with a dead battery, he has been suffering from problems related to those injuries. One of the complications he dealt with was poor circulation, which resulted in blood poisoning in his left arm. Skinner has also had infections in his feet that led to the need for amputating two toes.

Continuing effects

Continuing to suffer effects from the accident, Skinner went back to the hospital in 1991. The doctors put a shunt in his back to drain fluid that had been building up in his spinal cord and causing so many painful problems.

"I did pretty good until October of last year," Skinner said. "Then I lost muscle control in my left arm and hand."

Although he was told it was a fairly common side effect, Skinner had to return to the hospital to have another shunt put in, because the fluid had come back. Skinner had virtually no muscle control in his feet, had been walking with crutches or a cane and knew things weren't getting better, but worse, because of how he was feeling.

Getting out from behind the wheel

"In May (of this year) I was in Rusk Rehab in Columbia doing therapy and they didn't figure I could drive," he said. "I agreed because my reflexes weren't as quick and I didn't want to wreck or cause anybody else to. I had been driving, but the last few years my condition got worse and I wasn't feeling as safe. I was having trouble telling where my right leg was."

At Rusk Rehabilitation Center, an occupational therapist recommended Skinner look into some of the mechanisms available at D W Auto and Home Mobility Specialties in Columbia. Luckily for Skinner, it was right down the road from the hospital.

D W Auto had just the thing to help Skinner be a safe driver. However, the brake and accelerator hand control the business had in its inventory were out of the question on the limited amount of supplemental income Skinner had been receiving each month through disability payments.

"They were going to be $600 with them being installed," he said. "I was planning on saving my money and getting them."

Returning to home with the hope that what he needed was out there, Skinner went on with his life as best he could, although his truck remained parked.

Helping hands

That's when the Nelson Lions Club entered the picture.

Skinner went to the local post office one day to get mail and, in his wheelchair, he went in and talked to the postmaster, just as he would any other day. However, his situation changed as a result of that one conversation.

"I had talked to him off and on for several years and know he's had a lot of problems," Carol Hoskins said. "He wasn't asking for anything when he came up. He had rolled his chair up and I asked how long it would be before he would be able to drive. He said he wouldn't, not unless he saved enough money for (the hand controls)."

Hoskins said it occurred to her that the Nelson Lions Club, which she is secretary for, might be able to help him. So she asked how much the equipment would cost.

"They're not a wealthy family and I just thought it was a need that needed to be taken care of," she said.

Bob Doty, president of the Lion's Club, heard Hoskins' pitch about the idea at the next meeting and, understanding Skinner's need, agreed that the club could certainly help pay for the controller.

After the club voted in favor of the idea, Hoskins and another club member, Betty Johnston, who is a neighbor to Skinner, did some research. They thought Medicare or Medicaid would help with some of the cost for the device, but as it turned out the only way those programs would help with the bill was if Skinner was applying for a job.

"We're usually known for helping people with eyesight, but there's a lot of other ways we can help," Doty said. "We wanted to do anything we could to help him. I never realized how he had originally gotten hurt, but I lost my arm in '67 so I know when you need something, you need something. I knew he'd gotten to where it was hard for him to drive and I could relate."

On the road again

Using funds from the annual fish fry the club had recently sponsored, as well as other money in the club's budget, Skinner paid for the controller and installation of it into his truck. He can once again take to the road when he needs.

"I'm getting used to it, because I still want to do it with my feet," Skinner said. "But it's better than I thought it'd be. I wished I'd had this a long time ago. This just makes all the difference. I've gone to town several times and I feel fine."

Before talking with his therapist at Rusk, Skinner knew there were contraptions out there somewhere that might be able to help him, but he had never dreamed of actually finding a place to purchase one.

"It's good to know there are good people and organizations like that around to help people when they need it," he said. "I was stunned. I still don't know what to say. I appreciate it so much."

Using the hand controller, Skinner no longer has to use his feet to drive. A rod connected to the steering wheel acts as a depressor for the brake and accelerator, with the brake working when Skinner pushes down on a hand lever and the accelerator being pressed when he pulls the crank toward him. Skinner also purchased a steering wheel knob to aid him when turning the wheel.

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