South Charlotte

Grant provides power wheelchair for accident victim

Looking back is painful for Dolly Jackson.

In early November 2009, the first freezing night of the season, Jackson, a Pineville resident, found her black cat, Elizabeth, frantically meowing from a tree limb about 12 feet high in the back corner of her yard.

Jackson, then 53, got a ladder and a basket for the cat to jump into and slowly made her way up the trunk, then eased onto the limb.

Jackson lost her balance, and her feet got tangled in the branches. Within seconds, she was hanging upside down, about seven feet from the ground.

Kicking herself free, she fell face-first. After the fall, she couldn't move. She yelled for help, but her jacket, which had fallen over her mouth, muffled her cries.

She lay in the backyard for 12 hours, on the verge of hypothermia.

Jackson had suffered an "incomplete spinal-cord injury" that has left her with little functional movement - a permanent condition, said Dr. Latanya Lofton of Carolinas Rehabilitation, where Jackson spent five months recovering from her fall.

Jackson eventually developed the ability to wiggle her toes and to stand while supporting her weight, which made transfers from a bed to a wheelchair easier, but she still can't use her hands.

After rehab, Medicaid was Jackson's only option for long-term disability. She ended up in the Mecklenburg County Health Center, a nursing home in Steele Creek, and the bank repossessed her white-brick one-story home on Marine Drive.

Jackson's days are long. Her left arm stays contracted, bent at the elbow. Her hand rests on her stomach with fingers curled under. Her right arm is extended by her side and rests on her legs, which are thinned from immobility.

She experiences emotional peaks and valleys - the valleys much deeper than the peaks are high. One of the youngest residents of the nursing home, she shares a small room with a 95-year-old woman.

Jackson was able to use a power wheelchair during rehabilitation, which allowed her more interaction with patients and therapists. Now that she's on Medicaid, however, a $30,000 power chair isn't an option.

While in a manual wheelchair, Jackson has to be pushed everywhere.

A few weeks ago, Jackson received some life-altering news. Thanks to a recommendation from Lofton, her rehab doctor, Jackson was selected to receive a power wheelchair from the Darrell Gwynn Foundation. The organization was founded by a former drag racer who suffered a spinal-cord injury in a car crash.

"The same day I received an email about the program ... the first person who came to my mind was Dolly," said Lofton.

Jackson will be presented with the chair at a ceremony Sept. 18 at the NHRA drag race in Concord. Lofton and several therapists who worked with Jackson will attend.

"It's good to see good things happen to good people," said Lofton.

Now Jackson's daughter, Carmen Andre, 32, is raising funds for a handicapped-accessible van. The power chair won't fit in Andre's sedan, so she'd like to trade it in. But even a 10- to 12-year-old handicapped-accessible van costs about $40,000, said Andre.

Andre said she and her mother haven't lost hope, however. If they can get a handicapped-accessible van, Jackson's world would grow exponentially - she could spend time at Andre's home and they could plan vacations.

"It will change my mom's life," said Andre.

Jackson's eight brothers and sisters visit when they can, and Andre, who moved from a position as a full-time nurse to a part-time one after the accident, stops by every day she can.

Nevertheless, Jackson said, "I miss my job ... walking and using my hands to eat. It's very different to ask for help for every single thing you need."

"It just seems so surreal," she said. "When I'm watching TV and I see athletes fall flat on their back, I cringe. But they hop back up and are fine."

Her former next-door neighbors Betty and Bob Gums said they miss her terribly.

"I think about her every time I look over there," said Bob Gums, 70. "Best neighbor I ever had."