DISABILITIES

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By Daniel J. Vance


Last column, I featured 14-year-old Floridian Joe Griffin, who acquired a spinal cord injury in 1998 at age 2 after accidentally falling off a bed. Today, he only has feeling from his shoulders up and some in his torso and legs. To get around, he uses an electric wheelchair.

Griffin is an accomplished painter. He paints while moving his head up and down using a paintbrush attached to a wooden dowel that is duct-taped to his golf visor. Last column, I reported he went through twelve hours of surgery in June to correct a severe 96-degree spinal curvature. If done well, the operation could save his life.

How did the operation go? “He's in recovery right now,” said his mother Tish in a telephone interview. “The doctors were able to successfully stop his curvature at 20 degrees. You should see the x-rays of before and after. He has lots of little rods and screws in his back now. Had he not had this operation, eventually his organs would have been crunched.”

The 96-degree curvature and subsequent operation didn't slow down Griffin. Right before the operation, he painted separate water color and acrylic paintings for his Philadelphia surgeons. One painting he skillfully copied from National Geographic.

Said Joe Griffin over the telephone: “And now (after the operation) I'm beginning to feel pretty good and almost back to my normal life.”

So what is normal for Griffin? He said, “For one, I'm still doing academic competitions. One I'm most proud of involved students from about 40 high schools in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. A lot of my friends and I were entering the math portion, but my teacher learned (right before) there was a computer competition and asked me to enter it.”

Amazingly, as an eighth grader, Griffin took second place while going up against mostly juniors and seniors who had been studying for the competition the whole school year. Griffin went in without studying. Not surprisingly, he plans on majoring in computer programming in college. In May, he acquired his Internet and Computing Core Certification, for which he earned college credit.

Griffin credits his family and teachers for his success. To people with a recent spinal cord injury, he said, “Don't ever give up. If the doctors say you can't or won't be able to do something again, forget what they say. It can be done.”

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