Overcoming adversity: Paralyzed Myrtle Beach man drives again

Health
Chris Skinner uses adaptive equipment to drive.

Chris Skinner uses adaptive equipment to drive.

Chris Skinner is driving again, thanks to a never-say-die spirit and to the good fortune of crossing paths with Ian McClure of Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services at Murrells Inlet.
But first things first.
Skinner’s path to that fortunate crossing began tragically in Radford, Va., when, at age 20, he caught a ride home from a party and woke up 13 days later in the University of Virginia Medical Center.
“I tried to get out of bed and couldn’t,” he recalls. “I couldn’t move.”
A nurse who had just entered the room, surprised to find him awake, broke the news to him. “She started crying and told me I was paralyzed from the neck down,” Skinner says. “My spinal cord had been severed in the accident.”
And that’s not all. His lungs had collapsed, and he had tubes coming out of every part of his body — not to mention that four bolts had been screwed into his skull. For six months after he woke up from a coma, he was in and out of rehabilitation centers.
“At first, I just wanted to die,” he says. “But with the help of family and friends, I regained my competitive spirit. After that, I knew nothing but fight, fight, fight!”

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His combative spirit wasn’t so focused, however, that he failed to notice Suzie Jefferis, a physical therapist at Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center, where he was a patient.
“She was funny and full of life,” he says. “She was also honest and would tell me exactly what she thought. She was one of those girls you wanted to marry.”
Jefferis was doing some noticing, too. She was Skinner’s physical therapist, and she liked his playful spirit and good looks. But she ultimately decided they were at different points in their lives.
Two years after the accident, however, a friend of Skinner who also knew Jefferis brought them together for a day of exploring in the mountains. The different points converged.
The two were married in January 2004. They became the parents of twins, Caleb and Alethia, in 2007 and, in 2013, moved to Myrtle Beach.

 

Chris Skinner and family with Ian McClure

Chris Skinner, his wife, Suzie, and children, Caleb and Alethia, with Ian McClure, certified driver rehabilitation specialist with Tidelands NextStep Rehabilitation Services at Murrells Inlet.

Suzie Skinner began working as a physical therapist at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services at Murrells Inlet, and Chris Skinner began speaking to youth groups about overcoming adversity. Chris Skinner also regained the ability to stand, thanks to a new power chair and the help of Jennifer Lewis, his physical therapist at Tidelands NextStep.
Yet he longed to drive again — to reclaim his independence and to help his wife. Suzie Skinner knew just the man who could make it happen.
Remember that path-crossing that lay in Skinner and McClure’s future?
“I encouraged Chris to reach out to Ian,” Suzie Skinner says.
McClure, a certified driver rehabilitation specialist, helps people recovering from injury and illness learn to drive again and to use adaptive equipment when needed. Tidelands Health offers the state’s only program that teaches people how to drive using high-tech adaptive equipment.
McClure agreed to work with Chris Skinner, and their first session came in January 2017.

 

Chris Skinner uses adaptive equipment to help him drive.

Chris Skinner uses adaptive equipment to help him drive.

Chris Skinner admits he was scared and nervous. “Naysayers asked why I would do something like this,” he recalls. “Ian just said, ‘Of course, you can do this.’”
First, McClure introduced Chris Skinner to the adaptive equipment, which included hand controls and a touchscreen pad. Then they took a spin around the Skinners’ Myrtle Beach neighborhood.
Gradually, they increased their driving distance and speed, and with every outing Chris Skinner regained confidence and driving skills.
“We drove hundreds of miles in Horry County, starting on the back roads and working up to Ocean Boulevard, Highway 17 and then the bypass at rush hour,” McClure says. “We drove the best and the worst that Myrtle Beach has to offer.”
By April, Chris Skinner was ready to take the driving test. He recalls, “Ian had been pretty laid back during our lessons. But, man, that test was intense. I was more than a little nervous.”
He passed the test, and on April 27, McClure, who is authorized by the state to conduct official road tests, signed off for Chris Skinner. The next step was to outfit Chris Skinner’s Toyota Sienna minivan with the adaptive equipment, which was done in Marietta, Ga.

 

Chris Skinner uses a ramp to get into his Toyota van.

Chris Skinner uses a ramp to get into his Toyota minivan.

The gray minivan is fitted with hand controls and a touchscreen that controls the gears and heat and air conditioning. With his right hand, Skinner controls the electronic gas brake. By tilting the lever slightly to the right, he can also control windshield wipers, horn and windows. With his left, he controls the steering. For added stability while using the gas brake, he rests his arm in a brace made by Carrie DeLuca, a certified hand therapist at Tidelands NextStep Hand Therapy Center.

Now a happy motorist who can drive his children to school and help his wife with running errands, Skinner says, “I hope and pray that my determination to drive speaks volumes to my children. I went from lying flat on a table and blinking once for yes and twice for no to being able to take my children out for ice cream.”
McClure adds, “It’s why I do what I do. Driving gives someone that ultimate level of independence.”

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