Let me share some great news and an inspiring story about a man and a woman who refused to be victims.
Scooter is a man who “everyone” loves. He’s got an easy way about him that just plain makes people feel good. He’s engaging, friendly, funny, and genuinely caring. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of sitting next to him at our beloved Jayhawks Men’s Basketball games for the majority of the more than 25 consecutive years I’ve had season tickets (I’ve lost track of the actual numbers). I’m honored to call Scooter a friend and equally honored to call his lovely and charming wife Robin a friend too.
30 years ago, Scooter was going to play college basketball and hoped to get into coaching. But then he broke his neck and was paralyzed in a freak accident. It’s not easy for him to use his hands to dress himself and push his wheelchair around, but that hasn’t stopped him.
Dr. Scooter Ward (his real name is Scott but no one calls him that – except maybe his mom and himself) has his Ph.D in Sports Psychology and Counseling. Scooter is an Associate Athletic Director at the University of Kansas, serving as the academics advisor to the Men’s Basketball and Women’s Volleyball teams. He’s won awards for his work and his teams have crazy-high graduation rates. He also teaches. His former students and student-athletes line up to see Scooter every game.
I’m glad I sit next to Scooter and it’s not just because we have sweet tickets. He’s one of the few people I know in a wheelchair who isn’t bitter or pitiful (the wheelchair sections at most venues can be depressing, with a lot of victim mentality). Scooter isn’t a victim, he embraces life, adds value to the world, and he loves and enjoys people. He doesn’t dwell on what his life could have been or on the things he can’t do that other folks can. He’s got a very positive outlook and he’s a pleasure to be around. Scoot and his cute wife Robin seem very happy.
Recently, we almost lost Scooter. He had a Grade A tear in his ascending Aorta. Grade A, in this case, was not a good thing. It was a sizeable hole in humans’ largest artery supplying blood to Scooter’s brain and rest of his body. Blood was pumping from his heart but not all of it was getting to his head; he was bleeding into his chest and soon lost consciousness.
Fortunately, Robin acted quickly. She called 911 and managed to get Scooter from his chair to the floor to do CPR chest compressions until the paramedics arrived and tapped her on the shoulder to let her know they had it from there. Even with the medical professionals on site, though, it was a miracle Scooter survived. After they got him to the hospital and hours of tests and scans, hospital staff didn’t know what it was. But they knew it was bad. And at least one doctor had pretty much given up hope that Scooter would make it – or if he did pull through that he would be able to talk or even think.
Luckily, Robin made the decision to have Scooter taken right away by helicopter to KU Med in Kansas City. By then, word of Scooter’s condition was spreading like wildfire among the Wards’ vast network of friends and people who care very much for them. The prayers began to fly. When they rushed him into surgery and opened Scooter’s chest, his surgeon found that his aorta was badly torn and he had to squeeze Scooter’s heart with his hand to pump the blood. Days after the surgery, the surgeon told Scooter that if they had waited just 15 minutes longer, the aorta would have been “shredded” and it would have been all over. He also said that almost no one survives an aortic tear as bad as Scooter’s – certainly not with full cognitive and mental capacity.
But I’m exceedingly happy to report that he is back to his old self, cracking wise and flashing his trademark contagious grin. Neither Robin nor Scooter quit. They didn’t play the victim and give up, so they will likely enjoy many more happy years together. He just needs to stay in a power wheelchair for a couple of weeks of “sternal precautions” and not push his own chair or transfer himself so the wires holding his sternum together while it heals don’t pull through his breastbone. Ouch.
Robin said recently about the ordeal, “There were a lot of people praying, and that made all the difference.” That made me think about the It’s A Wonderful Life scene where heaven was getting a lot of prayers for a man named George Bailey and decided to send his guardian angel. As their dentist buddy Justin put it, “You don’t get the same result without all the prayers and without the toughness Scooter has developed by overcoming his unusual situation. His best days are way harder than my worst days.”
Scooter and Robin are both modest, but there’s no question in my mind that their choosing to face adversity without adopting the victim mentality, in this situation and life in general, are key to both Scooter’s amazing recovery and their happiness. A happiness that is reflected in their faces and in the many people who love them … and who pray for them.