Book Review: “A Different Kind of Courage: The Story of a Man Overcoming Paralysis” | Books | Weekly style

On May 2, 1987, Don Bridges was indulging in a favorite pastime – play rugby with the James River Rugby Football Club. It was a pleasant spring day as he enjoyed this very physical contact sport.

Bridges, who was working on a graduate degree in health administration at Virginia Commonwealth University, did her warm-ups and started playing. He crashed into the other team. But he couldn’t get up. “I was lying on my back, looking up at the sky,” he said. “My body felt like it was somewhere else.”

Tragically, Bridges’ life has changed forever. Vertebral fractures left the 24-year-old quadriplegic. He is confined to a wheelchair which he steers by breathing through a tube. Despite needing round-the-clock care, he managed to graduate, get married, and become a stepfather to children, although he was later divorced.

Her story, told by veteran Richmond-area journalist Paula C. Squires, is remarkable. His taut book, “A Different Kind of Courage: One Man’s Story of Triumph Over Paralysis” (Dementi Milestone Press), traces Bridges’ struggles without breaking into tears.

What makes a huge difference is that Squires has been tracking Bridges’ progress for over 33 years. And she somehow managed to compress it all into 146 readable pages.

For the rest of his life, Bridges would need someone to put a breathing tube down his throat. He also required catheterization three times a day to empty his bladder. Muscle massages were necessary so that they did not atrophy.

The dice were against him, in the long run. Squires reports that a 20-year-old who becomes a quadriplegic can only expect to live 17.1 years longer. A 40-year-old man could live another 13.1 years.

The bridges were lucky. He developed a large group of supporters, including his family, former Virginia Tech classmates, rugby players, and others. An important element was his membership in the Mormon Church which not only provided services but brought him into a vibrant social group. The car dealership Whitten Brothers helped him buy a large minivan at a discount.

The power of positivity

At first it was risky. Right after his injury, Bridges found that the Richmond area had limited health care options for his type of injury. The closest facility was in Atlanta, and Bridges went there for several months. Treatment was available at a locally operated facility at a veterans hospital and in June 2020 the Sheltering Arms Institute opened in County Goochland, targeting appropriate long-term treatment.

Despite his strong support group, Bridges still faced problems. He divorced and remarried. A new wife said she couldn’t get married and provide full-time care. In some cases, an assistant ended up in a nursing home for other reasons and could no longer work for Bridges.

Squires writes that Bridges’ biggest savior was his positive attitude. She quotes one of her doctors, Kevin Keller: “I think of Don when I get a call from a patient who starts taking antibiotics one day and calls the next to ask why they aren’t working yet. This is Don, who has been on a ventilator for 35 years. How come he never calls? He is the gold standard.

One question I had about the book was why Bridges wasn’t cited much. Squires explained: “He’s usually not used to endless speeches. He states his opinions succinctly and generally with a dry wit. That’s one of the reasons I like talking to him. ”

The book contains many color photographs that add much to the three-decade story. My only complaint was that the author puts a chapter at the end on Sheltering Arms that felt like an afterthought.

After reading this book, you may wonder about quadriplegics who lack the deep and vibrant support networks that Bridges had. What happens to them?

In many ways, Bridges, who suffered a horrific injury, was blessed.

Author Paula C. Squires will hold a book signing on Friday, November 18 from noon to 2 p.m. at ACAC Midlothian, 11625 Robious Rd. in Midlothian, VA.

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