Widefield man home after shooting that left him paralyzed

May 31, 2013 Updated: May 31, 2013 at 4:05 pm
photo - Leonard James works on his balance during a occupational therapy session at his Widefield home Thursday, May 16, 2013. James is working on having the strength to drive again. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Leonard James works on his balance during a occupational therapy session at his Widefield home Thursday, May 16, 2013. James is working on having the strength to drive again. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Leonard James is home.

He lies stomach down, his feet dangling off the end of the bed, patches on his lower back shooting stabs of electricity into his muscles to quell his pain.

Muffin, a six-month-old Shar-Pei, wanders into the bedroom, yawns and then saunters out onto a patio.

In the back yard of this Widefield home, a wooden ramp awaits final touches. The bathroom needs repair. A black-and-gray curtain hangs like a shroud from the top of the bedroom door - a wisp of privacy in a barren house with little because of the incessant parade of caregivers and therapists.

The 34-year-old gunshot victim, paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet that lingers in his spine, has had a rough week. His pain has soared. And he misses his son, Kaedyn, who is with James' ex-wife.

James was shot in the back Feb. 12 at a party at his home.

The man who allegedly shot him, 31-year-old Ian Whittaker, pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault, prohibited use of a weapon and reckless endangerment. Whittaker, who is back at work at a Widefield liquor store, told investigators the shooting was accidental.

A trial has been set for June.

Being home from the hospital has its challenges. There are days of pills, rehabilitation and movies - lots of movies.

Pain is a constant companion.

Last week, James had to face the likelihood that he would never walk again, which "took the wind out of my sails."

As he worked on balance exercises Thursday with occupational therapist Lindsey Aparicio, he wondered: "I'm not sure what I am working out for if I can't walk again."

There's stem cell development, she told him. And braces.

"You never know what they will come up with," Aparicio said. "You have such a good attitude. You have to deal with reality, but you shouldn't give up hope."

Still, there's plenty of unfinished business.

Authorities are working to get James money through a victim assistance program. He needs a car that can be retooled for a paraplegic driver and an elevator needs to be installed so he can get around in his two-story house. Nothing comes cheap.

The waiting and the pain are the most difficult to deal with, James said.

Helping him is childhood friend Malita Slayton who cleans house, redesigned the bathroom, fetches and cooks. A neighbor, Josh Stettnisch, also pitches in.

"It's been a tough adjustment, even having my son," James said.

James has known Slayton for 20 years. They grew up together in this neighborhood.

This latest connection started simply with chores that needed to be done in the house.

"There was a mound of dirty dishes," Slayton said. "I was like, OK, we're not going to lose our humanity here."

They'll dance together soon, she tells him.

There have been good things.

Volunteers from Pikes Peak Christian Church have helped with the ramp and bathroom.

Lowe's Home Improvement has pitched in with supplies.

James has a new wheelchair, sleeker and more high-tech than the one he left with from Craig Hospital in Englewood.

He got to pick it himself.

As far as wheelchairs go, it's kind of the sports car version, he said.

"It's lighter and I like the color," James said. "It's a very high-tech chair. It's wonderful. If you have to have a wheelchair, you want to have a nice wheelchair, you know."

And there are his four dogs, purebred Shar-Peis with royal lineages.

"I love my dogs. I love my dogs. I love my dogs," he said.

Doctors just changed his medication and he's found a pain management specialist who may help him.

"I can live with the wheelchair forever," he said. "But the constant pain scares me."

Behind it all, being home has brought him sadness, too.

James can't do the things he once did. He can't wait until the day comes he can wash dishes.

So he laughs a little too loud, his mouth wide, his head back, a booming bray. And then he tells Aparicio: "I feel bummed. The doctor wanted me on antidepressants. Not a good idea."

He doesn't want to be on antidepressants.

Done for the day, she departs.

Her last words as she takes her leave: "Keep some wind in your sails."

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