LeRoy Goossen of Fresno, Calif., marked 20 years of paralysis Jan. 5. But thanks to a brotherhood of volunteers that traces its origin to his Mennonite Brethren church, it is rare for a weekday to go by without someone paying a visit to provide care and chat.
Working as a custom home builder in 1995, Goossen fell from a balcony, whipping his neck and bruising his spinal cord. His arms and legs were paralyzed. Intensive care and extensive rehabilitation followed.
“I was with this physical therapist student and we talked about staying limber because you can really stiffen up,” he said. “The more I stretch and move and keep loose, if motion was going to come back, I wanted to be limber.”
His four children were too small to help — the youngest was just six months old at the time of the accident — so a group of men from Bethany Mennonite Brethren Church began taking turns to help with stretching, taking pills and other bedtime preparations.
“I got to know them, I talked to them as their kids were growing up, like mine have,” he said.
Twenty years later, the group is still going.
Every six months David McDannald and Gary Higdon get together to coordinate which days each of about 20 men will swing by for a visit. It gives Goossen’s wife, Jeanie, a break.
About half of the group is from Bethany. Some attend Butler Mennonite Brethren Church, where the Goossens used to attend. Others are friends and business associates.
Jerry Penner isn’t on the list, but that’s because he comes so often. For nearly 20 years he has spent Sunday evenings with Goossen.
“It’s a good outlet for LeRoy,” McDannald said. “It’s a good time to interact and find out what is going on in everyone’s lives.
“It’s not just a matter of stretching to keep atrophy in line. It’s an outlet for him too, because he spends a lot of time in his hospital bed by himself.”
An evolving bond
One member of the list was involved from the very beginning. LeRoy’s youngest brother LaRue flew out to a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado to bring LeRoy back to Fresno and care for him.
“The first four years I was there about all the time,” LaRue Goossen said.
Having recently separated from his wife, he provided care until a suitable worker could be found, on top of being a single dad of a 2-year-old and working a full-time job.
“We’ve always been really close growing up. I was closer to him than my other brother, so we’ve had that bond since we were little,” LaRue Goossen said.
Still, the relationship has evolved.
“One of the things that changed positively is we probably communicate better,” he said. “We used to play basketball, golf and things like that together. Now it’s a different kind of relationship because we can’t do that stuff anymore.
“I take care of personal issues for him I wouldn’t imagine doing. . . . I do it because he’s my brother and I love my brother. That’s just what you do.”
LaRue Goossen said he always looked up to his biggest brother, but the way LeRoy has handled his position in life is a daily inspiration that life is not as tough as you might think.
“It’s really changed my outlook on life,” he said. “You can get down and feel sorry for yourself but there’s really nothing to feel bad about.”
McDannald said he has never seen LeRoy Goossen depressed.
“I’ve seen him frustrated but not depressed,” he said. “He has a strong fortitude. He ran his own business, he’s a self-motivated guy — very sports-oriented.
“He’s just got that drive, and for years and years he said he would walk again. It took a long time for him to realize that God’s put him in this position.”
Goossen has worked to stay active. He still consults on homebuilding projects. At church, he prioritizes keeping up on relationships.
“I used to be on the budget committee, helped with finance and that kind of stuff,” he said. “I did that for quite a while, but it was harder and harder for me to get to the meetings at night.”
At home, the builder in him came up with ways to be self-sufficient. A tray he invented hangs in front of him above his hospital bed.
Using a mouth stick, he can operate remotes for a television and fan, a cordless phone, a recorder (in lieu of writing notes) and a book in a bracket. He uses a stick with a rubber tip to turn pages. He has an iPad, but he’s not really an Internet kind of guy.
“I came up with this right after I got paralyzed, and it’s been a great thing for me to stay independent, to not have to worry about disasters like people changing channels and turning pages,” Goossen said. “Something I have learned is to be as independent as possible.”
To McDannald, Goossen’s spirit of resilience is an example of God taking a difficult situation and blessing it.
“Somehow, some way, by God’s providence, they’ve found a way to live with it,” McDannald said. “We recognize that he’s a real testimony to us in how he’s dealt with that.”