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Olathe man outlasts doctors’ predictions after car wreck left him paralyzed

Rob

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Olathe man outlasts doctors’ predictions after car wreck left him paralyzed

By JEFF STRAIT
Special to The Kansas City Star
July 31, 2007

Sometimes doing the impossible is as much about routine as anything.

For Warren Hampton it’s the grind of daily chores — drinking three liters of water to keep his kidneys working, and keeping the sores on his body clean to ward off infection — that hasn’t changed much since he became a paraplegic in 1967.

But then there’s also the indignation.

He was, after all, left for dead following an accident on Highway 56 that left him mangled and unconscious, covered with a sheet by a paramedic, of all people.

And then there was the doctor, weeks later, who didn’t even stand out of the 20-year-old’s earshot when telling his parents their son likely had only two to five years to live.

Hampton’s reaction was knee-jerk, one borne more out of an ingrained sense of stubbornness than anything:

“Well, we’ll see about that, buddy,” he thought.

Soon after, Hampton set a pair of goals. The first was that he was going to make it to age 50, and the second was that he was going to live to see the year 2000.

He wasn’t sure where he got the numbers. Living to 50 would be about twice the age of the doctor’s prediction, which he figured would be about enough to prove his point.

And the year 2000? Well, being 50 would put him through to 1997, and if he made it that far he thought he might as well stick it out another three years and see what it was all about.

•••

Hampton can tell the story of the crash as if he remembers it.

It was a gray day, August 5, and it had been raining some, and Hampton was on his way to work at an appliance warehouse called Producers. He’d worked there for about 11 months since getting out of the military, and says he’d never worked harder in his life.

A few months before that he’d bought his dream car, a ‘65 Corvette. Buying it had put him into debt for the first time in his life, and he didn’t like it.

He was behind the wheel of the Corvette on this morning when it happened.

The car plowed into some puddled water on the road and spun into a center median where it was quickly launched, via some obstacle, into the path of an oncoming truck.

Hampton is probably glad he doesn’t remember what happened next.

The truck, unable to swerve in time, slammed the car and spun it so fast the centrifugal force flung Hampton out the back window to where he tumbled like a stuffed scarecrow across the highway.

By the time he stopped he wasn’t much to look at.

There was a lot of blood, and he was twisted and broken pretty bad. Among other things, the impact of his brain with his skull popped an eyeball out of its socket.

When his parents got there their son was already under the sheet. The paramedic told Hampton’s dad, an airplane mechanic who had served as a paramedic in the military himself, that his son was dead.

Tom Hampton wasn’t about to take the other man’s word for it. He quickly pulled off the sheet and gave it a shot.

“I can still get a heartbeat here — I can feel a pulse,” he said.

By then there wasn’t a whole lot the other man could have said to save face.

•••

Today Hampton lives in a basement bedroom of his west Olathe home with his mother Shirley, who for 40 years has been the biggest part of the routine keeping him alive.

Shirley is an 80-year-old dynamo, a wiry woman of seemingly boundless energy whom Hampton calls “the teenager.”

The two have the kind of relationship you’d expect from people who have spent so much time together, especially when it comes to discussing the accident.

Looking over a stack of black-and-white accident-scene photos, something they’ve done countless times and did again recently, there’s always some little detail to be puzzled out.

Hampton might say one thing and his mom’ll say “no, that’s not quite right,” or he’ll point out some piece of a picture that his mom had never noticed or didn’t remember.

“There’s Mr. Simmons, our old neighbor,” says Hampton. He still remembers the man shouting over to the driveway where Hampton would inevitably be working on his Corvette: Boy what are you going to do to that car next?

His mom hadn’t noticed the neighbor in the picture before.

When the conversation turns to Hampton’s hospital recovery, Hampton thinks he might have tried to say something when he awoke from his coma. His mom says he just silently raised his hand.

Of course she’d know. She says the 45 days in the hospital waiting for her son to wake up were the longest of her life. She still can’t joke about them in the way of her son, who, after all, wasn’t awake to remember them.

But then humor has always been Hampton’s way of dealing with it all, like the time he feigned pain when a new doctor came into his room to check how an incision on his leg was doing.

“Sorry. Sorry. Almost done,” the doctor kept saying in response to Hampton’s gasps and grimaces as he prodded the wound.

Hampton carried this on until he started to feel a little bad for the doctor, and thought he should let him in on the joke.

“That’s all right, doc, I’m paralyzed,” Hampton said eventually, and the doctor left the room without saying a word.

In the same way Shirley, her nerves frazzled, wasn’t in any mood to joke after the accident, even after her son awoke from his coma.

“I told her I’d been working too hard — I didn’t get no rest,” Hampton says. “She didn’t find that too funny.”

“I didn’t get any rest,” Shirley says, unsmiling.

•••

Today, 40 years and 38 surgeries after the accident, Hampton has left most doctor’s predictions, even those goals he set for himself, in the dust.

He’ll be 60 in September, exactly 40 years after “celebrating” his 20th birthday, still unconscious, in St. Luke’s Hospital.

Over the years living another day has boiled down to the stuff of routine, the three liters of water and the patches and alcohol that are used to clean the sores that form on Hampton’s skin due to poor circulation.

Neither Hampton or his mom think about the fact that a kidney problem or an infection could put an end to the routine at any time.

“I have people ask, ‘what’s a good day for you?’” Hampton says. “If I wake up, it’s a good day. That’s the way you feel after awhile because there was so many times you just about didn’t.”

When the year 2000 finally rolled around Hampton didn’t set a fresh set of goals. By then he had already survived two bouts of kidney failure and the amputation of both his legs in 1984, and he figured he’d better not push his luck.

But there is still something of his stubbornness, of the we’ll-see-about-that-buddy attitude that had motivated his first two goals, that hangs about.

To this day he still gets out the accident pictures and looks them over, hoping that some overlooked detail will jog some memory of the crash back into his mind.

He admits he does it mainly because the doctors told him it would never happen.

The way he sees it, they’ve been right on a couple of things and he’s proved them wrong on a couple. If he could just eke one more out then maybe that would be good enough.
 

XLR8

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...humor has always been Hampton’s way of dealing with it all, like the time he feigned pain when a new doctor came into his room to check how an incision on his leg was doing....

:L

If I wake up, it’s a good day...

I like this man's attitude!! And I salute his resilience!

Nice post Rob. Thanks for sharing it.
:wJane Ann
 

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