Saturday, January 18, 2003

New career begins


Disabled grad: 'I'm blessed'

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See the man. Not the wheelchair.

That's Charlie Henry's wish. Just see him. Not his disability.

In my eyes, he's a 42-year-old scrapper who never gives up. An inspiration.

Charlie's not sure about the inspiration part.

Just don't see him as someone who's been cursed, he said. "I've been blessed."

That is Charlie's wish. For every day.

But especially today.

This is his big day. Along with 104 other students at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, the Colerain Township man will be inducted this afternoon into Phi Theta Kappa. That's the international honor society for two-year college students with near-perfect grade-point averages.

[photo]
Mr. Henry


"This is the hardest thing I've ever done," Charlie said as we sat outside the conference center on the college's Central Parkway campus, site of today's induction ceremony.

"I'm looking forward to walking with the other students."

Only he won't be walking. He'll be wheeling.

Charlie is a quadriplegic.

A car wreck left him paralyzed in 1988. His body is confined to a wheelchair.

But not his mind. That frees him to dream.

After he graduates, he wants to open his own business. And make up for lost time.

Fifteen years ago on a hot July night, Charlie and a friend left a burger joint's parking lot.

The friend was driving.

"I don't know if he was fooling with the french fries or the radio," Charlie recalled.

"But, he looked down. By the time he looked up, we had rounded a curve and hit a pole."

Charlie's head slammed into the windshield post. The impact tore loose a vertebra that cut his spinal cord.

"I couldn't move," he said. "My whole body tingled like it does when you hit a baseball bat against a metal pole."

A doctor told Charlie he would never move again, never hold his 7-year-old son or his 6-year-old daughter.

Charlie told him: "You don't know me from Adam. You don't know what I'll do."

He endured months of physical therapy so he could regain the use of his right wrist and arm. He still can't write. He takes notes with a voice-activated computer.

But he held his children.

Charlie refused to go into a nursing home. "That's a warehouse for cripples."

Painkillers get him through the day. But he still suffers from sitting in a wheelchair.

"My joints ache constantly," he said, leaning forward. He curled his right wrist around his motorized wheelchair's joy stick.

Pulling himself up, he adjusted his position.

"The chair was starting to sting," he said. Time to move.

"I can still feel things," he added.

"After a while, the cushion on this thing's seat feels like I'm sitting on railroad tracks."

Charlie likes to joke about his condition. His e-mail address includes his nickname, quadfather.

"If you can't laugh at it, you can't live with it."

Ask what keeps him going, and his smile fades.

Turning serious, he listed "the members of my small support staff."

His family, his nursing assistant, Tina Simpson, "who gets me dressed and ready for college," the instructors, staffers and students of Cincinnati State.

"I couldn't have done this without them."

His support staff helps.

But the will to go on stems solely from Charlie.

"What keeps me going," he said, "is knowing I have the ability to get up every day and draw a breath into my body."

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.




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