Teen adapting to life in a wheelchair

Kevin Petersen, 14, watches tv in his home in Carson City Thursday afternoon.  Petersen was the victim of a rollover traffic accident and just recently got out of the hospital.  photo by Rick Gunn

Kevin Petersen, 14, watches tv in his home in Carson City Thursday afternoon. Petersen was the victim of a rollover traffic accident and just recently got out of the hospital. photo by Rick Gunn

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Lounging in the family recliner, fidgeting with the television remote, Kevin Petersen is an average 14-year-old.

Except for the hard-plastic brace circling his upper torso and the wheelchair stationed nearby.

Those are exceptions he hopes to beat.

Kevin returned home to Carson City March 9 after spending the first part of the year hospitalized due to a spinal chord injury he sustained Dec. 30 in a rollover accident.

At Santa Clara Medical Center in San Jose, Kevin learned how to care for himself despite legs that, at least for now, don't work.

At home now, Kevin's challenges include decidedly normal things for a teenager.

"It's really tiring waking up really early," Kevin said.

At the medical center, Kevin got up about 9 a.m. At home, he wakes up along with the household at 6 a.m.

"I'm not used to that."

His biggest pleasures are also familiar: Hanging out with friends, sleeping in his own bed and going to the movies with family and friends.

"And cable television," he added.

After spring break, Kevin returns to Carson High School to finish his freshman year. He's looking forward to it -- sort of.

"I want to see my friends, but I don't want to go to school," he said.

In contrast to the normalcy are doctors' appointments, therapy two times a week, and his wheelchair.

Kevin's mobility is slowed by thick carpet and the absence of a wheelchair ramp in and out of the house.

"They just bump me down the stairs 'til they can get me a ramp," he said of the ride down the steps.

This weekend, his father, Dave, will construct a temporary ramp with a more permanent structure to follow in a few weeks.

Kevin will also get a new, custom made wheelchair when he returns to San Jose next week. It's lighter, comes apart for better transport, and has angled wheels for easier handling, he said.

Kevin's family is also experiencing mixed feelings about his return.

"There's all the emotion of wanting him home and, at the same time, apprehension," said his mother, Pam Petersen. "The first several days we all fell into the care-giver mode. He took advantage of it. Then we realized he could do things for himself.

"I think once we get the ramp and he'll have more flexibility, I'll feel more at ease, feeling I can go places and go back to work."

For now, Kevin's legs are paralyzed but it's possible that as the spinal bruising heals, his legs may regain some and maybe -- hopefully -- all their movement.

"Nerve repair can take a year or even beyond a year," Mrs. Petersen said.

Kevin explained his spine suffered bruising and was "slightly punctured with some fluid leakage," that the surgeon mopped up and sealed.

Doctor's do not believe the spine was severed, but exploring the injury to find the extent of the damage would have caused more damage.

"If I get movement and feeling back in my legs -- it's totally a possibility; it's whether the nerves in my back repair themselves," he said. "But there's no guarantee."

Because of the uncertainty of the eventual outcome of Kevin's injury, the Petersens decided to stay in their mobile home and adapt it to their son's needs.

"Kevin has some time here to see what his limitations are. We have hope of a better outcome," she said. "This has been our home for so long; neighbors are supportive.

"He can maneuver around pretty well. If we went somewhere else, we'd still have to make modifications to the house, or build from scratch."

The transportation situation is similar. For now, Kevin's father or one of his brothers lift him into the family car.

"We're making do," Mrs. Petersen said.


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