THE PLYMOUTH REVIEW
Battle of nerves...
Hemauer sees a new life.
By: Jim Hughes
A year ago James Hemauer's life as an athlete ended - and a new one that has demanded far more courage began.
It was on a hot evening July 1, 1970 that Jimmy, a handsome, husky young man of 15, dived into a pond near Elkhart Lake, hit bottom and broke his neck.
For months he lay paralyzed, from the neck down, even his life in the balance, while his family, friends and people who had never known him prayed for his recovery.
"Give him at least his arms," some said as they bowed their heads.
Today, a year later, Jimmy is still fighting. I visited him this week and came away with a deep sense of admiration for the young man and a new appreciation for what it means to be alive and healthy.
What was Jimmy's reaction a year ago as the realization of his fate sank in?
"He cried," said his father, Robert F. Hemauer, 350 Stafford St., Plymouth, this week. The Hemauers have eight other children.
"And we all sat down and cried with him," Hemauer added.
"I was lying in bed at St. Joseph's hospital (Milwaukee) one day," said Jimmy, "trying to move my wrist, and it wouldn't when all of a sudden it moved, I don't know how, but it did. Ever since then I've been working harder and harder," he added.
After three months of hospitalization at St. Joseph's he was taken to the University of Wisconsin neurological and rehabilitation center in Madison. Intensive therapy was started.
"No one actually told me that I'd never be able to walk at the beginning," Jimmy said. "I remember thinking when I was first in the hospital that I'd be up and around in a couple of weeks. After a while I knew, and it gradually became more apparent, but it wasn't until Madison, that a nurse finally came right out and told me. I got mad and told her to leave me alone."
After four months at the rehabilitation center. Jimmy came home on Feb. 19. Confined to a wheel chair, he was restricted to the first floor of the home. An adjustable hospital bed was put in the dining room, which has served since as Jimmy's bedroom.
A ramp on the front of the Hemauer home now permits some wheelchair mobility.
The daily exercises regained partial muscular control of Jimmy's shoulders, arms and wrists though he says he will never be able to move his fingers again.
He does arm resistance exercises with his father and sometimes uses weights to strengthen the usable arm muscles that he has.
He needs help to work his legs in a range of exercises to tone the leg muscles, keep them from tightening up and maintain circulation.
His position must be changed every six to eight hours to keep the circulation going and to prevent his skin from breaking out.
The exercises are quite exhausting. Jimmy can only breathe by the use of his diaphragm, a muscle separating chest from abdomen. He speaks softly and his short wind would be another point of concern in the event of a bad cold or illness, but he has been fortunate in this respect.
"Getting sick is my only worry now," he said. "But I've always been healthy. I can’t even remember being sick before the accident.
"Sure, there are days when I feel depressed and don't feel like doing anything, just lying down," he said.
"Or like the other night when I just felt like sitting out in the back yard from 6 to 10. But then again there are days when I really feel like doing stuff like exercises, or going places."
When Jim returned home in February, he took courses in history and English at Plymouth high school and picked up partial credits in both. In September he is expected to register for a heavier course load though probably not an entire day.
All his courses must be scheduled on the main floor because of the wheel chair. He is unable to dress or wash himself, and his parents must do this. Combined with the exercises, the process takes about one to one and a half hours.
"Now I know that I can't use my body, so whatever I want to be I’ll have to use my mind or my voice. I want to go to college. I think I could be a good counselor for people with handicaps or a lawyer because all a lawyer uses is his mind," Jimmy said.
Though the Hemauers moved to Plymouth from New Holstein only seven months before the tragedy, the friends that Jim made in that time have stuck by him.
“The kids have been the greatest. You couldn’t ask for anything better,” Jim said with a grin.
"Every morning, Mike Picard and Jim Gillman would come and pick me up for school. If there's a party they'll pick me up for that or sometimes we'll just sit around and get a pizza.
"They’ll even help me get undressed and put me to bed. They're not afraid to help like that."
Robert Hemauer said the hospital bills for the last year amounted to about $27,000 with another $2,200 for doctor bills. With the exception of about $3,000 his insurance paid for the bills, he said.
The community fund, encouraged by The Review for Jim last year totaled about; $4,000, Hemauer noted. Several community groups have raised funds for Jimmy.
The hospital bed, wheel chair and a Volkswagen bus to transport Jim were bought with the money from this fund.
"The rest of the fund is being saved for his college days", Hemauer explained.
Though Jim said that the past year has been the hardest on his mother and father, he credits the whole family "with taking their turn."
“I don't want to see the year come back again,” said Bob Hemauer. "It’s been difficult, trying, hard to keep your patience. He's like a new baby, but the kids have adjusted wonderfully.'
Mr. and Mrs. Hemauer especially credit two children, Arlene, 23, Villa Park, III. and Mary, 24, of New Holstein, with bringing Jim out of his initial despondency.
"We were worried about Jim in September", Mrs. Hemauer said. "He was really down. But then the girls went to work and snapped him out of it."