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True grit: Utahn hasn't let crash and pain ruin life

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    True grit: Utahn hasn't let crash and pain ruin life

    True grit: Utahn hasn't let crash and pain ruin life

    By Doug Robinson
    Deseret Morning News

    He never saw the rock. All he remembers is riding a four-wheeled motorcycle through the Utah desert on a Saturday evening, and then he was lying in the dust, waiting for help on the longest night of his life.
    Steve Brady coaches his rec league team. When he first showed up, some boys and parents seemed surprised a disabled man would be coach. When their unbeaten season ended, four parents begged him to coach the following year. At Olympus High as a teen, Brady was named Mr. Basketball.

    Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
    He didn't know how he got there. The axle of his ATV told the story: It was mangled where it had crashed into a rock that he had failed to see in the fading light of the evening. He had apparently flown over the handlebars and landed head first. His helmet had protected his head but not his neck. Lying there, he knew immediately he was in trouble. He was, after all, a doctor.
    It felt like a bad dream. Suddenly, his life had come to a crashing halt. He knew he was paralyzed. And that wasn't even his worst concern. He was miles from nowhere. He could die.
    Steve Brady had it all until that moment. A beautiful wife whose youthful looks defy age. Four healthy kids. A thriving and rewarding medical practice in Las Vegas. A good income. His life had seemed to follow a map laid out for males who grow up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church on Sundays. Eagle Scout. Activities. A church mission. College. Marriage. Children. Career. A house. Church positions.
    Nowhere in there did anyone say anything about a wheelchair.
    Like most people, his life had always been one big dash from one thing to the next. He was caught up in the rush of errands and appointments and seeing patients and getting kids to ballgames and mowing the lawn. He was supposed to operate on seven patients two days later.
    "I was in the middle of life," he says.
    And then in a split second he was yanked out of his life. Everything came to a stop.
    It was 1996 and Brady had joined several friends on a weekend outing in the rugged desert country in southern Utah. The nearest town was Green River, and that wasn't near. They spent the day exploring the scenery on their ATVs. As the sun began to drop into the horizon, they started back. Brady veered slightly off the trail, and there was that rock.
    It was several minutes before his friends realized Brady was missing and returned to find him lying on the ground, on his side.
    "I couldn't move," he says. "I knew immediately what had happened."
    His friends didn't dare move him. Brady, being well-versed in the potential complications, was no longer as concerned about paralysis but another more serious problem.
    "As horrified as I was about what happened and what a broken neck means," he says, "that horror only lasted two or three minutes. It dawned on me that I was in the middle of nowhere, and I could have a bigger problem than a broken neck. I was aware I could die. It was interesting that I didn't dwell on the horror of paralysis out of necessity. My mind went to work on survival. I had to start thinking about how I was going to get out of here. My thoughts went to my wife and kids, and I didn't want to miss out on their growing up."
    Jill Brady helps her husband, Steve, in his office of their Draper home. He was paralyzed in an ATV accident in southern Utah in 1996.

    Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
    Brady grew up in Salt Lake City, the second of nine children. His parents, Ted and Janeen, were both musicians. They taught piano in the family home, one upstairs, one downstairs. Ted had to augment their income by dabbling in life insurance and remodeling kitchens, little realizing that his wife was a gold mine. Janeen had been writing songs since she was a girl. At first it was for fun, but as interest in her music grew, she began to publish and sell it locally. Eventually, they turned Janeen's music into a business.
    "And it went bananas," says Brady. "It was extremely successful."
    They called it Brite Music. They produced children's cassette tapes (now CDs), usually accompanied by a book. They were designed to teach values, self-esteem, patriotism, phonics, personal safety and how to avoid drugs and deal with abuse. Schools began using the music in assemblies and classroom settings. Janeen had a knack for catchy tunes to accompany the messages. An entire generation of Utah kids grew up with "The Safety Kids" and other hits. It became a multimillion-dollar multilevel company with some 50 employees.
    For his part, Brady wasn't much of a musician. He was a student and an athlete. At 6-foot-3, he played for the Olympus High basketball team and was selected for the school's Mr. Basketball Award.
    He completed an LDS mission to Thailand. He graduated from the University of Utah in just 2 1/2 years. He graduated from the University of Utah medical school in 1985, followed by a yearlong internship. He completed a three-year residency at the prestigious Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and the following year accepted a yearlong fellowship in cornea transplant surgery.
    In 1990, at age 32, he finally completed his schooling. He opened a private practice in Las Vegas, where there was a population boom and only one other cornea specialist in town. His practice took off.
    "I was busy all the time," he says.
    He found the work satisfying, too. He did a cornea transplant operation on a man who had had lye thrown into his eyes while serving a prison sentence. The morning after surgery, the man dropped his cane and walked around the office reading the plaques on the walls aloud, through tears of joy.
    In his off hours, Brady was the kind of guy who jumped on the back yard trampoline with his children and played basketball with them in the driveway. He favored fly-fishing and golf.
    "My life was about as good as it could get," he says. "I was very happy. I appreciated it but not as much as do now."
    In 1996, he made the last payment on his student loan. A week later he was lying in the dirt in the Utah desert.
    It was getting dark. Brady was still lying in the same position, exactly as he had fallen. His friends covered him with blankets. They tried to use their radios to get help, but they were too far away from civilization to raise anyone. A couple of the men rode their four-wheelers out into the night and were able to radio for help. Back where Brady lay, they built three large fires, both for warmth and as a guide for the rescue helicopter.
    During a game at Albion Middle School, Steve Brady watches his players. Since a 1996 ATV crash left him paralyzed, he has experienced many surgeries and health challenges.

    Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
    As a doctor, Brady knew his condition was deteriorating. "What can happen with an injury like that is that swelling starts to occur, and as that happens, bleeding and swelling can compress the spinal cord, and the injury can affect nerves farther up the spinal cord," he says. "I was having a tougher time breathing. If it finally got to the point where it took out those nerves that controlled the lungs, then I would have been gone."
    The hours dragged on and the night deepened. Maybe he would never move again, but he was determined to live.
    "It seemed like it was forever," says Brady. "I can remember lying there and my breathing getting harder and these guys freaking out because they were worried I was going to die. I was, too."
    It was midnight before the helicopter found them. A huge wave of relief washed over the men. The helicopter circled several times and then flew away. The party was devastated.
    "None of us could figure out why it would leave," he says. "The pilot decided it was too dangerous to land. I don't know why he couldn't have landed several hundred yards away at least. It doesn't make sense to me."
    Eventually, rescue personnel showed up on the scene on ATVs, but the problem of how to move Brady remained. They couldn't drive a truck into the region, and they didn't dare place him on a four-wheeler. They decided to carry him out on a stretcher by foot, working in four-man shifts. Just as the first light began to show in the sky, they reached an area where a pickup truck was waiting. Driving slowly over the bumpy road to protect Brady, they finally reached a place where a helicopter could land. About 8 a.m., Brady was flown to Grand Junction, Colo.
    Brady's wife Jill had just returned home from church when she got the call. It was Mother's Day.
    "There's been an accident," her father-in-law told her. "There's some paralysis."
    She gathered the family for a quick prayer and called the hospital in Grand Junction. She hadn't considered that it was a life-altering injury. Maybe her husband's foot was injured or something like that, she thought. Her call was directed to the operating room, where the surgeon himself picked up the phone.
    "He's broken his neck and he's completely paralyzed," the doctor said curtly. Then he said he had to hang up and begin operating.
    Jill sobbed. She flew to Grand Junction that day, leaving her children in the care of friends, little realizing that she wouldn't return to Las Vegas for three months.
    The doctor said it was one of the three worst fractures he had seen. He rebuilt the spine with bone from Brady's pelvis and a metal plate and stabilized his neck by fitting him with a "halo," which was attached to the skull with four screws. For six weeks, he couldn't turn his head even a fraction of an inch. His bed constantly rotated him from side to side, 180 degrees, to prevent pneumonia. Jill stayed by his side 12 to 14 hours at a time, moving from one side of the bed to the other to talk to him as he was rotated from side to side.
    Jill was touched by the outpouring of support. Complete strangers from the area who had heard about the accident took two-hour shifts to sit by Brady's side when Jill needed rest. When Jill was at the hospital, these same people would sneak into her hotel room and do her laundry and leave fresh flowers behind. Brady received so many flowers and plants from friends and patients that some hospital employees wondered if they had a movie star in their care.
    After 10 days in intensive care, during which time he communicated by blinking, Brady was flown to the University of Utah Medical Center, where he recovered and learned to live with his new body. The kids moved to Salt Lake City to live with their grandparents.
    "It was hardest on his mother," says Jill.
    Janeen stopped writing music for four years. The Brite Music Co. nearly went under.
    At the age of 38, Brady had begun a new life.
    The worst part about being Steve Brady, he'll tell you, is being part of the world but separate. For seven years, he has lived in what he likens to a cage set in the middle of an able-bodied world. The world goes on all around him while all he can do is watch.
    "Almost all of the things that are pleasurable in life - sex, golf, shooting hoops on the driveway, jumping on the trampoline with the kids - is gone," he says, "but it's right there in front of me."
    He watched the children through the backyard window jumping on the trampoline. He heard the bounce of the ball as they played basketball on the driveway. He could no longer play with them, he could only watch. He could no longer embrace his model-pretty wife.
    Coach Steve Brady, once an eye surgeon, encourages his team during a game at Albion Middle School.

    Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
    "Every time I'd see the kids on the tramp, it just ripped at me," he says. "The Resurrection has taken on a lot more meaning to me."
    He went from being a weekend warrior on the basketball court to being unable to sit up in a chair. After being housebound for a winter, he was restless. When the weather warmed, he went outside and pushed himself around the cul de sac in front of his house. Then he set his sights on an adjacent street that had a slight incline. The first day, he made it four feet, but each day he went farther and got stronger. He persisted until he could make it to the top of the hill.
    "It gave me a challenge," he recalls. "There had been nothing to look forward to. I'd get up in the morning and couldn't wait to get out there. It was exhilarating."
    Eighteen months after the accident, Brady was just starting to accept his fate and regain his strength when he began to experience intense pain in his legs. That seems strange for a man who is paralyzed from below the neck, but the pain is actually a crossed-up message originating in the area of the neck injury. The pain became more debilitating than the paralysis. Not even narcotics dulled the pain. He slipped into deep depression and its accompanying lethargy. The pain sapped him of all his energy.
    "The best way to describe the pain is that it's like a bad sunburn, but at the same time it feels like your skin is pressed against a block of ice and there's a vibration there," he explains.
    He underwent three surgeries to correct the problem and subsequent complications but with little success. Doctors surgically implanted a pump under the skin to dispense a narcotic. The pain cost him the strength in his shoulders that had allowed him to use a manual chair.
    "I thought, what could suck more than being paralyzed," he says. "I was dreaming of being a quad without pain, then I started to lose more strength and function."
    To those who know him, Brady seems like a modern-day Job. One day he fell over in his chair and struck his head, permanently costing himself his ability to smell and taste. He has suffered from bed sores and bladder infections and an infected gall bladder and an infected appendix. He has undergone six major surgeries. Recently, his aide noticed a swelling and took him to the doctor: It was the bite of a brown recluse spider.
    "You're just going, 'What's next?' " says Jill. " 'Why are all these things happening?' He has been a survivor."
    There are other survivors in such cases as this, as well. Their kids slowly came to grips with their father's injury, and the marriage has endured under circumstances in which the divorce rate is high.
    "We're still sticking it out," says Jill. "Every couple has things to work out. Religiously, you make the commitment to marriage. We're fighters, not quitters. There have been hard times when I thought, 'I can't do this anymore.' I decided I can't let the kids see me quit. What does that teach them? When life gets hard, you move on? Our lives are really different. He is an affectionate guy. But he can't give me a hug. He can't pick me up. The only thing that gets him through this is his eternal perspective on life. This is not all there is."
    Jill went through a year of depression herself that eventually required medication. "I think the first year everyone fell apart," she says. "I was Pollyanna. I was going to get us through this. Then reality hit that this was our life."
    They still date every Friday night. The date might consist of watching a DVD at home or going to dinner in a restaurant, where Brady has been known to tease the waiters about his condition to put them at ease.
    Last winter, Jill persuaded her husband to coach his 11-year-old son's rec league basketball team. When the kids and parents showed up for the first practice and saw the coach in a wheelchair, there was doubt in their faces. "The dads were like, 'Omigosh,' " says Jill.
    In typical fashion, Brady asked the boys if they had ever seen someone in a wheelchair do a wheelie and then performed one. He put them at ease and won them over (an unbeaten season didn't hurt).
    "Jill signed me up as a coach last year and I had a ball," he says. "The boys came in and saw me and thought, 'This guy is our coach in a wheelchair.' I knew people don't deal well with people with disabilities. The wheelie broke the ice."
    "What an opportunity for those boys," says Jill. "Most kids are not around a man in a wheelchair. They were giving him a drink of water or helping him with his sweatshirt. They gathered around his chair after a game. It was very, very cool. Four of the parents begged him to coach those same boys this year."
    About a decade ago, Brite Music began to founder. Sales dipped dramatically, partly due to neglect. The family was uncertain about the company's future until Brady's mother called him a couple of years ago with an idea: Would he take over the company?
    Brady had no business background. He read everything he could find on operating a business and called everyone he knew who had started one and picked their brains. He invited them to his house and recorded their conversations and replayed them later and typed notes to review again.
    Brady is now president of Brite Music, without pay. He runs the company from his home in Draper, where he and his family and his live-in aide, Luciana, settled about 18 months ago. The company still has a long way to go to complete its rebound, but it has shown marked improvement and launched a Web site in September that will serve as a parent resource as well as an online store.
    Brady performs most of his work on home computers with the aid of sticklike instruments attached to his hands and voice-activated software.
    "He's just a great student," says Jill. "He has a lot of savvy and a good feel for things. He was at the point where he needed mental stimulation."
    The business has given Brady another reason to get up in the morning, he says, and a needed distraction from the chronic pain. He believes in what he is doing: "We have had lots of testimonials about kids who have avoided situations because of what they learned from our products," he says.
    Looking ahead, he says, "I am very optimistic. I've got something I can do that I'm passionate about, and it gives me something to focus on" besides the pain. "I feel very fortunate to have two major careers and have them be things that benefit people."


    "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
    Gandolf the Gray

    2010 SCINet Clinical Trial Support Squad Member

    "You kids and your cures, why back when I was injured they gave us a wheelchair and that's the way it was and we liked it!" Grumpy Old Man

    .."i used to be able to goof around so much because i knew Superman had my back. now all i've got is his example -- and that's gonna have to be enough."