It has been said that when hard things happen in life, a person has 3 choices: to let those hard times define you, destroy you, or strengthen you. Jim, 68, has had more than his fair share of trials in his life but has chosen to let those difficulties strengthen him into the inspirational man that he is today. At age 36, as a vibrant, athletic husband and father of two young children, his life was forever changed in an instant when he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. Tragically, the accident left him paralyzed and dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. His doctors offered him a bleak outlook as to what the quality of the rest of his life would be. Fortunately, the surgeon who performed the surgery on his spine, told Jim and his wife about Craig Hospital in Colorado – one of the best hospitals in the country for spinal cord injuries. He traveled from the east coast out to Colorado, spending months in physical therapy and rehab at Craig Hospital.
It was at this very special facility where they taught him to be independent once again, provided very memorable sporting experiences using adaptive devices and instilled a hope that although life was going to be forever changed for Jim, that he could still do many things in life. Jim fought to regain an acceptable level of mobility but was not aware that the biggest challenge of an undetected head injury would impact the quality of his life. Unexpectedly, Jim found himself in a very challenging season, a valley that he now refers to as, “my years of darkness.” Several years later, the team at Craig expertly determined that Jim also had a head injury that had previously gone undetected and were instrumental in helping him to learn strategies to maintain an independent lifestyle.
Instead of being defined or destroyed by his disability, Jim found strength in giving back to others. Over the years Jim has visited with many new paraplegics, talking about what they are going through and offering them support and encouragement in their own recoveries. He also has given several school presentations to children about the importance of bicycle safety and wearing a helmet. Years earlier in college, Jim had been given a harmonica, leading him to discover that not only did he love music, he was actually quite good at it. He started playing the harmonica in a blues band with some musician friends and hasn’t ever put down that harmonica, citing the great joy and comfort that music adds to his life. His band, the “Ragtime Willi Band,” just celebrated their 40th year together, currently play 4-10 shows a month all around the Philadelphia area.
There has been one musician in particular, legendary blues harmonica player, Charlie Musselwhite, who has had a huge impact on Jim’s life. Jim has followed Charlie’s music career since his college days in the early 70’s, and is convinced that Charlie only gets better with time. About 10 or 15 years ago, Jim saw Charlie at a small venue and shook his hand. Charlie said something that Jim never forgot and impacted him greatly. Charlie quoted his good friend, John Lee Hooker, when he told Jim, “Blues is a healer,” a sentiment that Jim has found to be profoundly true on his own journey.
Jim credits two things with saving his life: music and Craig Hospital. He does not think he would be alive today, if it were not for both of these significant influences in his life. With a stroke of good luck and providence, Wish of a Lifetime discovered that Charlie Musselwhite, who is still touring around the world after 50 years, just happens to be doing a show in Denver later this year, just minutes away from Jim’s beloved Craig Hospital!
In October 2017, Wish of a Lifetime brought Jim and his family to Denver for an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime trip. He was thrilled to have a private harmonica lesson with Charlie, attended Charlie’s concert and then went to Craig Hospital, a place he has not seen in over 25 years. The opportunity to meet and learn from his lifelong musical idol and be able to personally thank the doctors and team at Craig Hospital for being such a source of healing and hope, which ultimately saved his life, is truly a dream come true for Jim and his family!