Shane Thurman

Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Shane Thurman knows first-hand the worry and stress medical bills can cause, especially for those with little or no medical insurance. He's been confined to a wheelchair after a workplace accident left him a paraplegic.

But he's hoping to inspire others in similar circumstances, and raise funds to help those in need with Freedom Ride for the Handicapped, where he will ride his wheelchair across the state.

Thurman, a 42-year-old Cumberland County native, was working in Bledsoe County demolishing an old building. He had disconnected the electrical lines and was climbing down the ladder when he came into contact with an electrical transformer.

"When the electricity turned me loose, I fell about 30 feet and hit flat on my back on concrete," Thurman said.

Thurman was transferred to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville for treatment, though the doctors and staff were less than optimistic about his chances. He had sustained electrical burns to 40 percent of his body, and the fall had broken several vertebrae in his back and a majority of his ribs.

"I spent 42 days on life support. I don't remember any of it," Thurman said. "By the time I came to, most of my burns were almost healed."

He had skin grafts and four or five back surgeries.

"They gave me up for dead two or three times, but I wouldn't quit breathing," he said. "But no matter what happened, I wouldn't give up. One day I started breathing over the life support. They kept cutting it back until they turned it off."

He woke up with no memory of the day of the accident. He remembered driving his truck the day before and believed he had been in a traffic accident.

Today, he is a paraplegic, paralyzed from the torso down, but he hopes to walk again.

"I've got feeling in my legs, but not enough to walk," Thurman said. "You know how your legs feel when the go to sleep and are waking up? That's what mine feel like. And I've got reflexes, which I didn't have before, so I'm getting better. But who knows if I'll ever walk again. It's a flip of a coin."

Thurman worked for himself in the construction industry before his accident. He had been enrolled in TennCare, but had been disenrolled just a month or two before.

"I didn't have any insurance when it happened," Thurman said.

The total charges for Thurman's treatment at Vanderbilt were $919,587.76, just shy of $1 million.

"I didn't know what I was going to do," Thurman said. "I was sitting here one day and got a letter saying they had done away with my whole bill."

Vanderbilt wrote the charges for his hospital stay off as uncomepensated care, and he was granted a scholarship by the government to a rehabilitation program. But he was on his own after that until he was accepted back by TennCare. And the bills kept on coming.

"I had to buy my own medicine, about $800 to $1,200 a month," Thurman said. "That's hard to come up with every month. Between what I had and what family members helped me, we came up with it until I got TennCare."

Thurman knows others suffer with similar problems affording care. It's led him to organize Freedom Ride for the Handicapped, where he will ride his motorized wheelchair from Crossville to Memphis, back across the state to the North Carolina line and return to Crossville. He hopes to raise money to help others with medical expenses they may have.

"I hope to raise enough to buy wheelchairs, walkers, things like that," Thurman said.

"Some insurance companies will pay so much, and they leave you the rest. People don't have the money. I hope I can make up the difference."

Thurman hopes to be able to begin his trip in mid-March, regardless of the weather. He will have a van following him with flashing lights to alert motorists to him on the shoulder of the roads. He plans to take secondary roads for the trip.

Thurman's mother, Hallie Thurman, serves as president of Freedom Ride for the Handicapped. Those needing assistance would need to present doctor's orders for the equipment. He would also ask for old equipment, with the hope it could be refurbished to help another person.

"I can't help everybody in the state," Thurman said, "But I want to be able to help."

Donations can be made at any U.S. Bank branch and ask for donations to be deposited with Freedom Ride for the Handicapped.

"There's a reason I lived, and I believe this is it," Thurman said. "So that I can make this trip and help some other people out."

Those wishing more information about Thurman or Freedom Ride for the Handicapped may call him at 788-5937 or write to 11963 Hwy. 127 S., Crossville, TN 38572.

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