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Overcoming the odds: Quadriplegic finds solace after wreck

POSTED: December 23, 2013 11:54 p.m.

Interview with Keith Clark


Keith Clark can't remember the details of the 1990 car accident that left him paralyzed when he was 17, but he remembers being more timid as a youngster and "miserable" during high school. His mother's and church's influence helped him open up.

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Just a couple of days before Christmas in 1990 and almost two weeks after his 17th birthday, Gainesville native Keith Clark became a quadriplegic.

“I was leaving from church and going with a family of friends to North Carolina,” Clark said. “We were on Cleveland Highway, and it was kind of rainy, when we got in an automobile accident. I was thrown from the vehicle about 30 feet and broke my neck.”

Following the crash, he was left unable to move any part of his body except for his head, neck and small parts of his biceps. He spent a month at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, mostly in the intensive care unit, before transferring to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center for brain and spinal cord injuries.

In the three months he spent at the Shepherd Center, Clark underwent physical and occupational therapy, while he kept up with his schoolwork and socialized with other patients.

Thanks in part to the treatment, Clark was able to regain partial use of his arms, but his life was still left in turmoil.

“My whole life was flipped upside down,” he said. “I wound up with a tragedy, and it takes a while to get over that.”

High school is a troubling time for many teenagers, and Clark faced the added difficulties of navigating East Hall High School in a wheelchair at a time when, he believes, the school was not ready to handle a student who is paralyzed. All of his math and English classes were on the second floor of the school, and there was no elevator, which forced him to take lessons at home from a retired teacher.

“High school was miserable,” he said. “I was the first quadriplegic that East Hall High School had to deal with, and they just weren’t ready to deal with someone in my condition.”

Because of the difficulties, Clark became withdrawn and timid. The now-40-year-old said he found solace from his mother, who helped bring him out of his shell.

“She had no shame, and that isn’t a bad thing, because she was never ashamed to take me anywhere,” he said.

After graduating, he studied drafting at Lanier Technical College, which he said was a much better experience than high school. He went on to work in the industry and operate rental properties.

However, his real change came after he turned to church for guidance.

“After the accident, I realized that if I had died I would have gone to hell,” Clark said. “From that moment to almost a year later, I struggled with that.”

He struggled until a friend of his, who was also in the accident, approached him about accepting Jesus Christ. Clark immediately told him that he wanted to do the same thing.

From then on, Clark became active in Macedonia Baptist Church in Gainesville, and he eventually began teaching an adult Sunday school class. It was then that Clark realized he had become a different and more outgoing person.

“I’m not ashamed to talk to anybody now,” he said. “I’ll roll up and talk to a total stranger.

“Especially someone that has tattoos, or a mohawk or just something crazy, because most people are timid or afraid of those people.”

Not long after, he met wife Terri via the online dating service eHarmony. The couple has been together for almost 10 years, and she believes her husband is a true overcomer.

“A lot of people who have had an injury like that tend to give up,” she said. “He just hasn’t. He lives his life, and I don’t think he’s let it get him down.”


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