Author John T. Chartier attended Brimfield Elementary Superhero Day
John T. Chartier wrote his memoir after an accident in the Bahamas that left him quadriplegic. On Superhero Day, he attended Brimfield Elementary.
Lisa Scalfaro, plate courier
Sitting outside Brimfield Elementary School on a warm sunny day, John Chartier recalled the “unusual accident” in which he was in a wheelchair.
“I went back to the beach,” he said. “I was swimming outside in the water and a big wave just totally swallowed me up. It hit me so hard that I fell to the bottom of the ocean, face on. “
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The Superman t-shirt Chartier wore on Thursday was appropriate. He had just led a parade of Brimfield students and staff, many of whom were dressed as superheroes, in a parade to and from Altercare Post-Acute, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility on nearby Tallmadge Road. Brimfield first grade teacher Patty Conkle, a member of the school’s Spirit Committee who planned the event, said the group included almost the entire student body of more than 500.
Conkle said the Spirit Committee wants to find a way to understand how well staff and students have responded to the pandemic, including working remotely.
“We just thought these kids worked so hard all year round so we felt like superheroes,” said Conkle, adding that the school decided to go further by making Altercare health workers superheroes honors by bringing them about 30 gift baskets of items donated by school staff, such as gift cards, lotions, candies and sunglasses.
“It’s just a perfect way to show who we are here,” said Conkle.
Chartier said his involvement was a given as he rehabilitated at Altercare for more than seven months. His participation in the parade was arranged by Hope Morrison, a third grade teacher from Brimfield. Morrison and her husband Ron were vacationing with Chartier and his wife Rhonda on a cruise when Chartier had his accident. In fact, Ron Morrison helped save Chartier’s life.
“I can’t even put into words what you did for Rhonda and me,” said Chartier.
‘This is not good’
Chartier, who turns 60 on Sunday, is originally from Michigan but has lived in Mantua for 21 years.
Chartier and Ron Morrison swim in the Bahamas on March 27, 2013. Chartier was knee to waist deep in the water when the wave crept behind him.
“Waves. You just never understand how powerful they are, ”said Chartier.
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His momentum carried him forward as he fell and his legs became trapped in the crest of the waves, pulling them around and over the back of his head so that the body was not meant to bend.
“It broke my neck and I see those shooting stars in my eyelids and then it took me a few moments to understand what just happened. My brain kept telling my body to get up, but it didn’t respond. “
Chartier said he realized he was paralyzed and still lying face down in the water and started praying that someone had seen what had happened. Morrison, he knew, swam farther out. Chartier said he could hold his breath for a long time, but he also knew how “brutal” it can be to resist drowning in vain.
“It got to the point where I thought, ‘This is it, the day I die,’” he said. “And that’s a really tough realization when you think about the fact that in this moment you are going to die. My thought was to quickly suck in water and it would be over. My brain kept saying that, but I didn’t. “
But just when he thought he was going to pass out, he suddenly floated over the water.
“I look down and see legs on either side of me,” said Chartier. “Ron Morrison found me and three other young men who got into the water at the time. Each grabbed an arm and a leg and carried me to the beach. So Ron asked me, ‘John, what’s the matter’ and I said, ‘I don’t know, but that’s not good.’ “
An Israeli doctor who was also present took the lead. He held Chartier by the neck, ordered the others to gently roll him onto his back, and he lay there for a while until the ambulance arrived.
Shortly after, Chartier and his wife realized they had more than a medical problem when they were told at the hospital that their insurance in the Bahamas was “not good”.
“They gave me an IV and that was it,” he said. “My wife tried to get money so that she could be paid. They immediately wanted $ 10,000 to treat me. It took my wife a long time to understand that. “
Rhonda got her parents to transfer some money, and they got the rest by raising their limit on a credit card, which they usually preferred to keep low. Chartier then had x-rays and an MRI. What they wanted more than anything was to get a medical flight back to the United States and go to the Cleveland Clinic, which Rhonda arranged with the American embassy. Before leaving, a neurosurgeon convinced her to have him operated on first to stabilize Chartier’s neck for the return flight.
“I really feel like he saved my life,” said Chartier. “Because of the things he could do, I mean, I can actually stand, I can walk a little. Not far, that’s why I have the chair, but it’s a wonder how far I’ve come. “
Helping people is “a passion”
Two hectic days after the accident, the Chartiers were back in northeast Ohio, where further surgery was being performed. Chartier spent 10 days at the Cleveland Clinic and then was transferred to the MetroHealth Medical Center, which Chartier said he and Rhonda found out was actually the best place for spinal injuries. There he spent three and a half months rehabilitating up to five hours a day for five weeks, then another seven and a half months at Altercare, where he rehabilitated two hours a day six days a week.
After the accident, the Morrisons had to stay on the cruise because they had to drive a van back to Ohio.
“When they came back, they came to see me almost every day,” said Chartier. “I mean, all the time in all of these places I’ve been. It’s very humiliating, to say the least. “
After leaving Altercare, he continued his hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy at UH Portage Medical Center and then Robinson Memorial Hospital two to three times a week for two years.
Chartier is quadriplegic today. He can get up on his own, but if he falls he needs help getting up. He can walk a block but very slowly and he gets very tired. He said the “weird part” was that he felt a tingling and stinging sensation, a “neurological pain” on his skin from neck to toe, but not feeling any touch.
“I can’t feel myself walking,” he said. “Everything has to be visual. So I can’t walk in the dark. It’s interesting.”
Before the accident, Chartier was a quality engineer at Swaglok, a manufacturer of pipeline valves for oil rigs. But he can no longer do that because he lacks stamina and fine motor skills and he has violent, seizure-like cramps that can last longer than two hours.
“I joke with a lot of people when they ask me this question, you know, are you still working? I say, ‘It’s a really interesting thing. If you don’t show up for a whole year, they’ll let you go, ”he said with a laugh. “But they are a very good company.”
But Chartier said he is still busy trying to help and inspire others who are going through a difficult time. A major part of it is a book he wrote, a “reminder” called “Embracing the Waves: How I Survived Incomprehensible Loss and Relearned How to Live”. The book is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
“I also had a very hard life growing up,” he said. “So I weave my story [of the accident] with my childhood and then growing up. Before my shaft injury, I suffered heart failure and found out that I was born with a bicuspid heart valve. So it’s all part of the story, it’s all woven together. I just hope that other people can see with my stories that they are not alone in difficult situations. “
Chartier also has a website, https://jehntchartier.com, which has photos and information about his experience, book, and podcasts that he and Rhonda, who was his supervisor, did. Chartier encourages people who are experiencing similar difficulties to email him at John.T.Chartier@gmail.com.
In addition, and this could be another reason the Superman t-shirt is appropriate, Chartier is also volunteering as a peer mentor with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
“I have to say it was probably just as useful to me, maybe even more,” he said. “We all benefit from it, so I really enjoy doing it. I use the phone a lot. “
Chartier said his accident changed him. He is more aware of the difficulties of disability, but wants to help people even more than before, after all the support he has received from his family, especially his wife, friends and the doctors and caregivers who have helped him.
“I like getting the story out there,” he said. “If there is anything I can help anyone, that’s what I want to do. So it has changed. Not that I didn’t want to help people in the past. It’s just so much different now. Now with passion, you could say. “
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.