John Patterson

Chair lift elevates his independence, spirits

John Patterson of Mandan poses near his van in 2015.
John Patterson gets around much better these days, and the Mandan, N.D., resident says that’s helped improve his overall outlook on life.

John, 54, who has cervical myelopathy resulting from a 1994 motor vehicle accident, gets around in his van much better, and gets out much more, since he was able to add a lift for his powered wheelchair with help from NDAD.

With an assist from his daughter, CoryAnn Patterson, who’s also his primary caregiver, John successfully applied for general assistance from NDAD earlier this year. His lift was installed several months ago.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s just so much easier,” John said. He added a chuckle. “It’s like having my legs, pretty much.”

The lift is a vast improvement on the portable ramp CoryAnn had to set up each time John used the van. She sometimes pinched her fingers doing so, and the ramp at times wouldn’t stay assembled, they said. With winter snow, John sometimes struggled getting his power chair up the ramp. Sometimes, they needed help.

“It’s amazing,” CoryAnn said, laughing. “It’s so much easier to be able to get him to go out and do stuff” now.  The new lift has “made a tremendous difference,” John added.

When they do use the van, CoryAnn often drives. John does “once in a while so I don’t forget how to do it.”

He hasn’t forgotten how his disabling predicament began one winter day 21 years ago.

A former moving van operator and concrete worker, John Patterson was driving young CoryAnn and her older brother, Joshua, to a Bismarck school. While waiting at a stop light in heavy traffic, their vehicle was rear-ended by another traveling at high speed. The children’s injuries were minimal.

"I was thankful they were strapped down good,” he recalled. Though John was wearing a seat belt, too, “I took the brunt of it. I could feel the pain right away, but I didn’t realize everything was going to go like it has over the years.”

Medical scans eventually showed a spinal injury, and surgeries included putting cadaver vertebrae in his neck, he said.

The consequences of his injuries weren’t immediately evident. Over several years, John regressed from using a cane to a walker and then a wheelchair. His balance worsened. He lost strength. Bladder issues led to the need of a catheter.

Yet, the worst day, John recalled, was when a social worker told him he’d never be able to work again. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” John replied, incredulously. He says that news nearly killed him.

These days, John is able to move only a few feet using his walker, and often he still needs a hand. He has survived years of joblessness, a divorce and multiple bouts with depression.

But John’s outlook improved a year ago, he said, when he sold his mobile home, moved into a single-level, accessible apartment in Mandan and obtained a van that could carry his power chair.

John says he draws what inner strength and resolve he has from “the love of my children” – CoryAnn and Joshua, and Joshua’s three young children, Tucker, Brodie and Macie. “They’ve always been there for me,” he said. “They’ve always encouraged me, and they do everything they can for me.”
And NDAD, he adds, “is a godsend.”

-- Mike Brue

The writer is communications director of NDAD.

NOTE: Originally published in the fall of 2015.