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Taking nothing for granted

By Britney Appier

Sun Tribune

People often don't appreciate the simple things in life, tasks such as being able to walk to the grocery store or drive a car.

But there are many people who do not have the luxury of taking everyday life for granted. They spend much of their time attempting to do these simple tasks once more.

Chris Carlson is one of them.

On Aug. 24 2007, Carlson was left with partial paralysis of all four limbs after a auto racing accident in a Late Model Street Stock race in South Dakota.

"My main goal is just to live as freely as I can, and with as little help as I possibly can," Carlson said. "It just takes time everything just takes time."

The accident occured on a dirt race track at the Interstate I-90 Speedway in South Dakota. Carlson was trying to avoid another car's spin out but he over-corrected. The car dove over the berm surrounding the track and and rolled nine times with Carlson still inside.

Clint Anderson, the owner of the car and Chris's employer, first thought was that he was dead.

"That accident was terrible, and I was hoping that he was going to walk out of there just fine," Anderson said. "But it was a pretty bad accident. The car just flew apart and disintegrated."

Carlson had shattered his C5 and C6 vertebrae, and his right wrist. He remained conscious as the crash unfolded.

Anderson rushed to the crash site and Carlson and said the first words that Chris spoke when he got out of the car were to call his parents to let them know what had happened, and that he was afraid that he was never going to be able to hold is daughter, Courtney, again.

Though Carlson has not fully recovered from the accident, he has made significant progress in the last year.

After the accident Carlson could not move his limbs for almost three weeks. According to his mother, Kate, the doctors told him that he would never be able to move again. However, with physical therapy, Carlson slowly began to gain back motor function in his limbs. Gradually, he gained the use of his legs more and more. Two days before Thanksgiving, Carlson was able to walk two or three feet with a walker. Later, he walked 30 feet with a cane.

On May 3, Carlson felt good enough that he walked unassisted down the aisle at his brother's wedding. He's looking forward to his upcoming driving test to see if he is able to drive with certain car modifications.

"(Chris') ultimate goal is to be able to drive again, to just get back to his job and be able to live with a limited amount of personal care assistance," said Tammy Vig, Carlson's Occupational Therapist. They have been working for Carlson "to be able to go back to life," she said.

Carlson said that a contributing factor to his recovery are those who love and support him and give him the motivation to continue progressing.

"My family has been there since day one," Carlson said. "That has been a big help, because if I need anything they are always there."

Carlson said his daughter is "always a good booster."

"To see her always running around, smiling, and laughing, is always helpful," he said.

Though Carlson said his back has "healed as well as it is going to heal," he hopes to gain more movement in his limbs through more intensive physical therapy.

He hopes to be able to improve his basic motor functions and his walking. He aspires to be able to switch from an automatic wheel chair to a manual one and eventually to a "quad cane" permanently.

He eventually hopes to gain enough function in his limbs to do things around the house without his wheel chair.

Though the racing accident left Carlson partially paralyzed, Carlson said he still would like nothing more than to race again.

"I have no regrets about what I did," he said. "It is something I love to do so I would rather get hurt doing something I love to do than just get in a car crash going down the highway. At least I did it doing something I love to do."