Monday, October 19, 2015

A Disability and a Dream Car


Imagine, you are 17 years old, enjoying life as you see it in the mid 80's, realizing that one day, when you turn 18, Adulthood begins. Freedom is just around the corner, the decisions you make have more meaning, have more to do with becoming completely independent. Now, you have the opportunity to sign up for the service, or put your name in the Selective Service, you can buy smokes, basically move out and have your own place. It's every young adult’s dream, to finally be an independent teenager. Who knows what is next, what are you going to do? Go to College? Move out of state? Cruise the countryside? The world is yours. 

But then, one day, all of that changes. You are riding your motorcycle and you get into a tragic accident. WHAM! You shatter your T5 vertebrae in your spine, now you are a paraplegic from the Chest down. That's what happened to a good friend, Tim Graves, in 1987.

If you don't know what that is, here is what I could find on:

Thoracic vertebrae are located in the mid-back.

Thoracic Nerves (T1 – T5)

·         Corresponding nerves affect muscles, upper chest, mid-back and abdominal muscles.
·         Arm and hand function is usually normal.
·         Injuries usually affect the trunk and legs (also known as paraplegia).
·         Most likely use a manual wheelchair
·         Can learn to drive a modified car
·         Can stand in a standing frame, while others may walk with braces

You would think that being paralyzed would be difficult enough. Especially being so young, all of those great opportunities you dreamed of are now not as easy to accomplish. Being handicapped in the 80's is much different than it is now. More organizations exist for disabilities, better technology to help with getting people around in life, and vehicles are much easier to drive today than they ever have been. 

Well, Tim's challenges were not over. As all American men do, we dream of having a family one day; finding that special someone and marrying her to spend the rest of your life with, someone you connect with. Tim found that with his soon to be wife he met in 2010. Two years later, he was able to go to the Philippines and meet her and her family. It was a time for him to finally be more than happy. 
This is the time where his dream of getting back in his 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass starts to become a challenge. On his trip back home, he was transitioning to his wheel chair and ended up getting his rear end stuck on the brakes. With paraplegic’s, this type of event, where it could cause any bruising on a body part that doesn’t regularly move, can be devastating and turn in to a much worse injury. He initially didn’t see any immediate bruising, but a few days later it developed. He had to complete his journey back to the United States, which comes with an 18 hour flight. Sitting down that long, his bruise slowly blistered, then burst open, turning in to a deep tissue wound under a pressure sore she size of a softball.

Over time, the wound began to heal, and it shrunk in size, but the healing stopped and now it was time to seek medical attention. The surgeon’s decided to do a muscle flap surgery which ultimately made him completely bed ridden. Plus he had to stay off of his rear end in order for the stitches to not break and for the surgery to heal properly. I think this kind of commitment would even be a challenge to someone who isn’t paralyzed from the chest down, let alone, someone who solely relies on his upper body to move the rest of him.

While he inevitably faced an uncomfortable and stressful time healing and being completely bed ridden, he was also dealing with lawyers to help get his newly found love to the U.S. He spent most of his time on video chat with her while his lawyers looked for ways to get her a legal Visa to travel so they can finally be married. Thankfully, some mild luck finally fell into place, they found a way to get her a K1 Visa, meaning she could come to the U.S. but in order for her to stay; she would have to get married to him within 90 days, or face deportation back to the Philippines. His wound has still yet to heal, the visa went through in October 2013, and then, by December 19, 2013 they got married.

From reading the story he shared with me, it seemed that this is where things started to look up for him. He was married to someone he loved, and finally had someone he could spend quality time with.  Of course, life still has its daily challenges, and responsibilities. He lives in Southampton, PA and in 2013 there was a lot of snow that came down that year. While transitioning from bed to his wheel chair, he tore 2 tendons in his left rotator cuff, now even limiting his abilities even further. Not only does he have to still heal from his wound on his rear end, but now his shoulder damaged, and doctors cannot perform surgery on his shoulder while his wound is not healed due to risk of serious infection that could be life threatening.

While his daily challenges are quite the obvious, it makes me personally never want to complain about having a hard day ever again. I find myself with daily life struggles just like every other American…never enough money, how am I going to afford anything between paychecks, my vehicles need maintenance that are beyond the savings or income I have, my daughters are sick, my wife is sick, work is really pressuring me to finish these projects on time, what if I miss my deadlines, I’m going to be late to a meeting, do I have any time for myself.

Which brings me to the story of his 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass, he purchased the car in 1991 all stock with hand controls. In 1991, he worked in a machine shop, spending most of his money on modifying his car. The Cutlass has a 468ci BBO, UMI tubular adjustable upper and lower control arms front and rear, QA1 coilovers up front, all new exhaust system 3" , 50 series Flowmasters, X pipe, Electric cut offs, Hooker Super comp headers, Phoenix th350 2500 stall, 3.42 rear, 12 bolt posi, Procar bucket seats, B&M Hammer shifter  all auto-meter guages, grant steering wheel and many more modifications. Needless to say, this thing is a beast, just waiting to be unleashed to the open road again.

Unfortunately, with his permanently damaged shoulder he cannot transfer in or out of the Cutlass because it sits 6 inches lower than his wheelchair. He jokes to me in his email that there isn’t a wheelchair that has a 6 inch lowering kit, maybe this is something that some wild machinist or car enthusiast will work on someday…a lowering kit for wheelchairs to help with disabled to get in and out of their lowered cars. Ultimately, what he would love for it to have is a suspension system high enough so he can use a transfer board to get in and out without any help.

When I hear about his want to get in to his muscle car, the first thing that comes to mind is Dan Short, #Fantomworks, on the East Coast, building his Chevelle to support wounded veterans and making it wheel chair accessible with a built in ramp. Now I don’t know, it might be a long shot, but if he can build a car like that, imagine what kind of possibilities would open up for Tim Graves.

Now, living with his wife, and his Parents who are in their 80’s struggling with challenges of their own, his only wish is to be able to finish the car before his parents pass away. I can see why Tim Graves is such a fan of Chip Foose and Overhaulin. Chip Foose puts a lot of beautiful touches to his cars, he is compassionate, and he knows that the effort he puts in to every car he touches will be appreciated by that person for generations to come. If I were Tim Graves, I would long for Chip Foose to come to my rescue as well, so I could at least live decently knowing that my other love in life is complete.

Thanks for reading my story today…If you like what you see, and appreciate what you read, leave a comment below. Share this with your friends, family, and fellow car enthusiasts to spread the word about his story. I know he has a lot more to tell about it, and I’m sure as I get to know him some more, I’ll keep learning about it myself.


Chuck Ruffin

a.k.a. Sgt. Car Man

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