A Note of Hope

Just what is it that most defines a person? Is it the job they do, or how they walk? Is it their relationship to family, or the totality of their accomplishments? Is it what they leave behind? Or is it something else entirely? Questions like these flit routinely through most folks’ minds over the course of a lifetime. For some, they can become an unhealthy obsession resulting in stasis and despair, while for others they can result in enlightenment and inner peace, free from the turmoil and angst of daily existence.

Yet there are many here among us for whom such questions are—without warning—torn from the hypothetical realm and made flesh in the wink of an eye. Few things in this world are as acutely responsible for such drastic reassessments as a life-threatening illness or accident—and it should be noted that hairpin turns in what Lou Reed termed “life’s lonely highway” can often serve more as signposts for others than for the one actually pulling the G’s and (hopefully) rounding the bend. In the case of beloved and acclaimed local artist and musician Jason Statts, who survived a violent, unprovoked assault which left him paralyzed from the neck down, such queries are far from academic.

In the wake of the highly publicized late-night Ardsley Park shooting in mid-2008 in which he and fellow friend and bandmate, David J. Williams, were shot in their necks, Jason embarked on an almost unimaginably difficult road to recovery and adaptation which would surely test the limits of most anyone’s patience, endurance, strength and resolve. While Williams’ recuperation was long and trying, his wounds were far less severe that Statts’. Since the attack, it has been Statts’ ongoing problems with health, mobility and even basic day-to-day needs which have created a staggering—and ever-growing—personal debt. How much debt are we talking about?

Well, says Statts candidly, “My latest six-week stint in the hospital (for a small scratch on his tail bone which turned into a problematic pressure ulcer) cost over $100,000. Medical supplies run around $12,000 a year, and I have a vacuum pump that’s another $5,000 to rent each month.” While not all these costs are billed to him directly, the vast majority are, and even with the job-related insurance he was luckily carrying when his spinal cord was shattered, he must rely extensively on government assistance and the generosity of friends and family to cover these massive costs. However, over the past year, cuts in his benefits have resulted in a serious drop in his health and stability. “I was in good health up until about seven months ago,” he explains by email. “They’ve had me on bed rest for about five months, and I probably have about a month of healing left. That’s a long time to be in the bed.”

While one’s head spins at the thought of being bedridden for almost half a year, dealing with a high level of paralysis at the same time only amplifies the amount of help required for the 38-year-old SCAD graduate from LaFayette, Georgia. “I have a really great aide named Sheila who comes in four hours a day, six days a week,” says Statts. “She knows where more of my stuff is than I do! And my roommate helps a lot, as do my parents when they can travel here. A few close friends also do things for me when needed. At this moment, a 24-hour nurse would be beneficial—but that’s another $18 per hour times 24 hours, times 365 days a year. You get the idea. I have a special needs van payment, mortgage payment and bills. Currently, I’m on a special bed that’s helping me heal—and they might take that away any day.”

Written by Jim Reed