June 16, 2004
Mr. Bowles goes to Washington
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Though it is where his “story” begins, Jerry Bowles doesn’t like talking about the accident that took both his legs. While it was hard to imagine at the time, he now understands the best was yet to come.
“That’s in the past. I want to move on. I’ve got lots of other things to do,” he said. The Methodist Rehabilitation Center volunteer will get the chance to talk about those things next week when he travels to Washington D.C. for a ceremony honoring outstanding volunteers from across the country.
Sandra Walker, director of volunteer services at Methodist Rehab, nominated the Rankin County resident for the Jefferson Award and will also attend the ceremony in Washington.
“He is willing to share his story with people who are in such a difficult situation. He’s able to really understand what they are going through because he’s been there,” she said. “And he answers their questions honestly and openly. He’s cheerful and inspiring and a great example of what a difference volunteering can make.”
Bowles, 71, is one three Mississippians, and 85 volunteers nationally, who will be honored by the American Institute for Public Service for their volunteer work. The institute recognizes volunteers on the local level across the country each year through the Jefferson Awards program. Some of the local winners are selected from each state to attend the ceremonies in Washington D.C., where five are selected for national recognition.
Bowles lost his legs in 2000, after he stopped to help at the scene of a car accident and was struck by a car himself. One of his legs was amputated almost immediately and the other one followed a week later. After a couple of surgeries he moved to Methodist Rehab to begin physical and occupational therapy and to adjust to life in a wheelchair.
He’s honest about his first reaction to his disability. “I’ll tell you the truth,” he said. “When I was laying in that hospital bed I cursed the Lord. I asked him ‘Why did you leave me like this.’” In time he came to realize the Lord had a lot of plans for him, and most of them would center around the wheelchair that was now a major part of his life.
“I look at things differently now. I understand it’s not all about me. We’re all here to help each other,” he said. He has found strength in his faith and in sharing his story with others facing the same struggles he remembers.
As he began his therapy at the Jackson hospital, his outgoing, gregarious personality began coming back. He and his fellow patients became accustomed to seeing the purple-vested volunteers in the halls of Methodist Rehab, and while he certainly liked them, he was a little surprised when someone suggested he should volunteer. Two years after he left the hospital as a patient, he started thinking about returning as a volunteer.
“I decided I might like it and that I had something to offer. It’s always good to talk to someone who’s been there,” he said. That was two years ago and he has become a familiar face around the hospital. During the course of his work he frequently meets people who are dealing with amputations from accidents or the effects of some illness, such as diabetes. He’s there if they want to talk.
“I just tell them I remember what it was like and tell them how far I’ve come. I do just about anything now that I want to. It takes a lot of hard work. You have to listen to your doctors and your therapists. They know how to help you get better,” he said.
Bowles was honored earlier this year for his work at the hospital by the Points of Light Foundation and was featured on their Web site. He is quick to point out all of the hospital’s 100 volunteers deserve recognition for the work they do. They give of their time to take mail, reading materials and meals to patients. They help get them to various appointments within the hospital, work in the gift shop and sometimes just offer encouragement. “We would not be the great hospital that we are without all their efforts,” Walker said.
Bowles is also one of a few blood donors or recipients being featured in an ad campaign by Mississippi Blood Services this year. Bowles, a regular donor before his accident, received 55 pints of blood when he was injured. He now donates both blood and platelets as often as he is allowed.
“You can’t dwell on the past. I’ve had a good life and this injury has been part of that good life. You just have to take it as it comes,” he said.
Volunteer Jerry Bowles has been recognized nationally for his commitment to Methodist Rehabilitation Center patients. He has received the Daily Points of Light Award and the Jefferson Award.