1116POPESaudTeri Pope of Chestnut Mountain reflects on life following her husband’s May 11 accident that has left him in a wheelchair.
VIDEO: Kenny and Teri Pope of Chestnut Mountain describe the changes they have made at home and in transportation in the wake of the May 11 accident that has left Kenny confined to a wheelchair. And Teri talks about her husband’s fall from the roof of their house.
CHESTNUT MOUNTAIN — Just mere seconds.
That was enough to turn life upside down for Teri and Kenny Pope, to set them on a wrenching journey from despair to healing and seeing the future for what it holds — physically, spiritually and emotionally.
The irony of it is that Kenny’s devastating fall from the ladder would take place on Mother’s Day, a time of celebration.
Blustery weather on May 11 had snapped the arm to the satellite dish on the roof of the Popes’ home on Hidden Oaks Drive, off Strickland Road.
"We got home from being at Teri’s parents ... and we didn’t have TV and I wanted to watch TV," he said in an interview at the couple’s home last week.
"When I looked at the satellite dish, the arm was literally hanging limp. I thought I might be able to click that back in place and everything would be resolved."
So, he mounted a ladder, climbed to the top of his single-story home and began to inspect the dish perched on the corner of his roof.
"I realized that (the arm) wasn’t going to click back in place. It was literally broken. I was just about to come down the ladder, having given up to fix it, when I fell.
"As I was falling, I remember the thought going through my head, ‘Why haven’t I hit yet?’
"... I remember hitting and I knew immediately that my legs were unplugged. That was obvious and I knew it from the get-go. I never lost consciousness, and I remember when Teri came out there and telling her that I was sorry.
"I knew I was in bad shape. I didn’t know how bad, but I knew that I was sorry because I knew that I had (changed) our lives forever."
What followed was an ambulance ride to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville and then months of recovery, rehabilitation and training for a whole new set of life skills at the Shepherd Center, a catastrophic care hospital in Atlanta.
Today, he lives with paralysis from the bottom of his rib cage — just above his navel — down through the rest of his body. He has two titanium rods in his back and 14 screws to stabilize his spinal cord.
"He doesn’t have any feeling, control or movement of any kind," Teri said. "... I never hated adjectives so much as when the neurosurgeon told me Kenny’s spinal cord was stretched, crushed..."
"And twisted," Kenny said.
"Everything but severed," she added.
"... Thankfully, Kenny didn’t have any brain injury or brain damage. He never lost consciousness, which is a miracle by the grace of God."
Kenny hit the ground in such a way that "his spine hit first," Teri said. "The neurosurgeon said it was a violent injury like what you usually see in a car crash."
On a visit outside the house, Teri pointed to the piece of ground where Kenny fell on his back.
Also, a hole in the house’s vinyl siding and a scuff mark serve as a morbid reminder of how Kenny kicked the house as he fell.
Reflecting on the past few months, Teri said, "I would have never chosen for Kenny to be paralyzed and to live with pain, but I wouldn’t go back now. We have grown closer to each other, closer to our family and closer to the Lord, and I wouldn’t change that."
No doubt, though, that their world has flipped.
Life can shift quickly
High school sweethearts, the Popes got married at Blackshear Place Baptist Church in Oakwood on April 16, 1994, and have lived since then at their Chestnut Mountain home.
Living there with their 4-year-old chihuahua, Moe, life had been coasting along fine for Kenny, 38, and Teri, who celebrated her 40th birthday Thursday.
All was going well for Teri, who was working as a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation. And Kenny was commuting daily to Buckhead, where he worked in online account management for AT&T.
The couple worshipped faithfully at Blackshear Place.
Also, "we were in the best financial shape in our marriage," Kenny said. "We pretty much just had a house payment — no other debt or anything like that. We were saving money and everything was going great."
Today, "we have more debt and more mortgage to pay for the renovations, to pay for the van," he said. "We had pretty good substantial medical bills. Thankfully, we have very good health insurance."
One surgery followed another. But beyond the medical needs, the couple faced the matter of Kenny’s homecoming, which, in their case, required more than just straightening up and cleaning the house.
The Popes have had to focus the past few months on renovations to accommodate Kenny’s disability.
Their work has included replacing carpeting with wooden floors to make traveling easier for Kenny’s wheelchair, rebuilding the bathroom off their master bedroom and installing a wooden ramp in the garage to give Kenny a smooth exit from the home.
The couple moved in with Teri’s parents on July 25 and stayed there until mid-September, when renovations were completed.
Many willing to help
Church members helped with "most of the painting and a lot of the renovations," Kenny said.
"We had friends donate supplies and their time and their skills. ... The church and the community at large has been very, very helpful to get us back home and get us back stable," he said.
Fellow believers were willing to oblige.
Youth taught by Kenny and Teri at Blackshear "turned out in droves" to help out, said Sterling Lynn, the church’s minister to students.
"People came all the way from Mississippi to paint," Lynn said. "It just shows you (the Popes) are the kind of people that are of such a giving and caring nature that people are just quick to give back."
There is still work to be done, including installing a ramp from the back deck Kenny built in April and, as a last priority, access to a half-basement.
The Popes also have bought a minivan that enables Kenny, with the help of a lift and other devices, to climb into the driver’s chair. Gas and brake pedals on the steering wheel help him drive and negotiate traffic, same as with any other motorist.
"I was raised in the Atari generation and played video games and everything’s with your hands," he said, smiling. "It’s not much different than that, really."
The van is "particularly very freeing and a positive thing," Kenny said.
One of his first acts behind the wheel was buying flowers for Teri.
"It had been six months since I was able to do that," he said.
Getting used to changes
Kenny and Teri have returned to work, although he doesn’t get to the office but once every couple of weeks.
Life is much as it was in many ways.
Kenny must spend more time with daily tasks, such as showering and brushing his teeth.
He also is adjusting to new routines, such as having to remember to reposition himself often in his wheelchair to ward off "pressure sores." He checks his legs and feet nightly for any skin changes, such as a cut or bruise.
Kenny also uses a rickshaw, a piece of exercise equipment that he stores in the garage, to help gain upper body strength.
Over time, his body will create a new vertebra.
"(Doctors) took one of his ribs on the left side, removed it so they could get down to the front side of his vertebrae," Teri said.
"And they took that rib bone and the crushed vertebra and crushed it up even more to activate Kenny’s own stem cells and fill a PVC cage with that, so Kenny’s bone will regrow to build around that PVC cage and become a new vertebra."
Teri almost glows when she describes it.
"Creation from rib, just like in Genesis, just like God did," she said. "It was good then and let me tell you, it’s good now."
The Popes have drawn strength from their faith.
They said they have gotten particular comfort from Jeremiah 29:11, which states, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Kenny’s injury is permanent, but short of a miracle, the couple is looking ahead at life and what it will bring.
"When I look at my 38 years to get me to this point, I can see where the Lord literally crafted a plan for my life," he said.
"I had a mom who was sick, in a wheelchair and even confined to a bed most of my life ... and she was a great example (of) how to live in tough circumstances but still smile through it."
Kenny and Teri believe the ultimate plan for them lies in God’s hands.
"I think that I must have some deal here to come that (will concern) paralyzed people or people in wheelchairs or something," he said.
With Teri beside him, Kenny added, "we’ll have a whole new audience to go and hang out with, have fun with, do things with and minister to."