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By Daniel J. Vance

Artist, writer and public speaker Joe Griffin of DeFuniak Springs, Florida, has at age 9 accomplished more than most people will in a lifetime. He and his parents enjoy reading this column in The Walton Sun, a weekly not far from Pensacola.

“At age two, Joe was sitting on a bed watching television with our two daughters back on July 13, 1998,” said his mother Tish in a telephone interview. “He leaned back and fell off the bed from a sitting position. He got up to walk, but immediately his left arm wasn't working. We thought he'd broken it. So we hurried him to Fort Walton Medical Center.”

Doctors determined Joe had a spinal cord injury and immediately was sent via ambulance to Pensacola. Within 24 hours he was paralyzed from the neck down, with only his facial muscles moving.

With intensive therapy, including a motorized stationary bike and a treadmill, Joe the last seven years has recovered considerably. Today he has total feeling from the shoulders up, has some movement in his legs and torso, uses a ventilator only once a day, and to get around uses an electric wheelchair.

At age 9, Joe has become an award-winning artist, even though he doesn't have any feeling in his hands.

“Art has been a great tool for my son,” said Tish. “Florida's lieutenant governor selected Joe's artwork to grace her 2004 holiday card. Then in 2005, the secretary of the state department of transportation selected his artwork for its holiday card and calendar.”

Being selected for this last honor was so rewarding to Joe because judges chose his card blindly, meaning they didn't know of his disability. In other words, he was competing one-on-one against “able-bodied” peers. Another painting of his has graced a billboard near the state capitol.

Joe paints using a paintbrush connected to a wooden dowel that is in turn connected to the brim of his sun visor.

Besides art, he has won local and state writing contests, and recently spoke in front of 150 Florida State students. As for school, he attends public school three days a week and has home-school the other two days.

Was he surprised to win that first art contest in 2004? “Absolutely,” he said smartly over the telephone.

This Joe Griffin is a polite and determined young man with a bright future.

For more, see danieljvance.com [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]