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Spotlight Iowa City: Student battles back after medical error

BY JORDAN FRIES | FEBRUARY 15, 2010 7:30 AM

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The home videos projected on the television screen at Scott Edwards’ Fort Madison home show a man who appears strangely unfamiliar to his 6-year-old son, Clay.

“Everyone, hurry and come in the room, look at daddy walk,” Clay shouted toward his 10-year-old brother, Jace and his mother, Leslie Edwards.

Edwards, resting in a wheelchair, understood his young son’s shock at seeing “a completely different daddy.”

Clay was hardly 1 year old in 2004, when Edwards, then a truck driver and licensed pilot, went to the hospital for surgery, hoping to get his incessant headaches and sleep apnea.

But something went wrong. The anesthesiologist went too deep into Edwards’ back, hitting his spinal cord and paralyzing him from the waist down.

That single, swift moment left the now-40-year-old’s life drastically altered.

He spent weeks in various hospitals, hoping to receive some kind of diagnosis, aid, or guidance. His legs, constricted to a wheelchair, became swollen from lack of blood flow and were covered in painful ulcers.

Because a doctor had been responsible for his condition, Edwards said, some hospitals wouldn’t acknowledge its severity or offer compensation.

“We were truly shunned by the hospitals, and it was really shocking,” he said. “I was the breadwinner, and in the course of an instant, everything had changed. The emotional strain was, at times, unbearable.”

Edwards eventually discovered doctors who were willing to care for him. After nearly two years of painful treatment, the ulcers were gone, but his struggle was only beginning.

Left with no source of income, Edwards relied on state aid and disability checks — which, he said, were hardly enough to support his family. His home lacked handicap-friendly features such as wheelchair ramps, and the nerve pain was constant.

“When he cried, our sons cried too,” said Leslie, who became Edwards’ makeshift physical therapist. “The boys became afraid when Scott left that he wouldn’t come back.”

Edwards entered a dark period where he questioned whether he “wanted to see tomorrow.” But in 2008, he discovered Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation, a program that would help him return to school — one of the man’s greatest desires.

A political-science major who’s been enrolled at the UI since last August, he said he’s motivated by his aspiration to go to law school and help those who have been through similar struggles.

Edwards rides a special bus from Fort Madison to UI Hospitals and Clinics every Tuesday and Thursday for his classes. Though his condition turns a “five-hour day into a 15-hour day,” he keeps a constant optimism that rubs off on his professors.

Associate Professor Douglas Dion, who taught Edwards last semester, marveled at his inner strength. Shaking his head, he said he couldn’t believe the man’s story when he heard it.

“I thought his story needed to be told,” Dion said.

Though the Edwards face foreclosure on their home, and he struggles every day with both physical and emotional pain, he said he gets by “minute by minute.”

“What I thought would destroy our family has only made us stronger,” he said. “It’s taught my boys to be compassionate, and we’ve learned to come together and adjust to all that life has given us.”


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