From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

My Brother, My Hero

In 1975, at the age of twenty-eight, my older brother John drove off a cliff during a monsoon rainstorm. The accident occurred in Borneo, where he was working. He was in a coma for almost three months before regaining consciousness and sufficient strength to be flown back to his hometown.

Three years later, John moved to Los Angeles to live with my husband and me on a one-year trial basis. Although John was only one year older than I was, I always looked up to him as being my older and wiser big brother.

Our trial year was an emotional roller-coaster ride. John took two steps forward and one back. He had daily temper tantrums, which frequently included putting his head through a wall, ripping his clothes or throwing something. I had to juggle my time between our graphic-design business and taking him to physical therapy, speech therapy, the podiatrist and the ophthalmologist.

This put a tremendous strain on my marriage, not to mention our business. As difficult as it was, I wasn’t about to relinquish John to some unknown institution. I knew in my heart that would be the end of his spirit, his competitive nature and his essence.

We were fortunate to find a pilot program for the disabled at our local community college. This would give John a place to go on a daily basis, and we prayed it would also help him relearn some basic work skills.

What we thought would take one year turned into several. We watched and assisted John as he relearned everything necessary to become whole again and eventually independent. That meant having his own place to live, and something to do during the day.

Since John had a background in physical education prior to his accident, he was given the opportunity to assist people who were more severely disabled, as part of a pilot program. This was the first time since his accident that he had the opportunity to give to others.

This was a major step forward for John. Helping someone else made him feel his life had purpose. After six years, John completed the pilot program at the City College. It was time for him to move into his own place.

John’s first volunteer job was at a hospital. There, he learned how to sort the mail, distribute it to the different floors and get outgoing mail ready for postal pickup. Several years later, when the hospital closed, John needed to find another position.

His next volunteer job gave him the opportunity to work in a print shop. Once again, the people with whom he worked, especially his boss, were like angels, compassionate and patient with his mood swings and occasional bursts of temper and depression. When he got depressed, they gave him the time away from work he needed to regain his balance. When he finally settled into his job, John marched proudly off to work, never expecting compensation.

It had been more than twenty-three years since his accident. Thanks to his volunteer positions, some very special people and John’s natural tenacity, his life was full once again. His work gave him a reason to get up in the morning. He had a place to go every day where he knew his contributions were making a difference.

On numerous occasions, John was given the Volunteer of the Year award. The doctors who had tested him several years earlier were stunned at how vastly his skills had improved when he was reevaluated. They acknowledged that no one really understands how the mind heals or what role love and support play in one’s recovery. When he left the Los Angeles area to move back to his hometown, there was a special ceremony acknowledging him for his years of service.

After his return to Santa Barbara, John found another volunteer job, working at the American Red Cross. And, the best news of all, twenty-five years after his accident, John moved one more step toward total independence when he got his driver’s license in October 2000.

Volunteering has played a major role in his ongoing recovery. His struggles have been monumental, and yet he has shown that life can still be about love, perseverance and giving to others, even while experiencing personal pain.

Having a place to go every day, where you can make a contribution and be with people who really care, is what continues to give his life value. John was, still is and always will be, my hero.

Nansie Chapman

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For information on the American Red Cross, contact your local Red Cross chapter or visit their Web site:]

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