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Smith overcoming injury, enjoying life

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‘Not many people get a second chance at life. I’m not gonna waste it.’

By Calen McKinney

"I call this my shuffle," he says, with a smile.

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With the help of a walker, he glides his feet and slowly walks past by the other clients.

"It's not a pretty walk. But I can get from here to there. It might take me a while," he said.

On the way, the young man says "hello" to the other clients who are working to rebuild their bodies and smiles. He also gives them words of encouragement.

Once told he would likely never walk again after a car crash, he steps up on the treadmill and begins walking.

Wade Smith, 35, moved to Campbellsville from South Carolina when he was a child. He graduated from Campbellsville High School in 1996 and was voted the shyest person in his class. That's changed now.

"I've got people telling me to be quiet now," he said, with a grin.

Smith's life changed forever on April 28, 2010. He was driving and struck a cattle trailer with his vehicle. He wasn't wearing a seat belt.

"It flipped four times and threw me out the passenger window," he said.

Smith was flown to the University of Louisville Hospital for treatment and kept in an induced coma for two weeks. When he woke, he couldn't move his body from the neck down.

Smith said he was told he would likely be paralyzed from the neck down.

Smith's ear was ripped off in the crash and he suffered other cuts and bruises. He had also become a C5/C6 quadriplegic incomplete.

"I've been through the wringer," he said.

After being in intensive care for three weeks, Smith was moved to Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville and began to get some feeling back in his legs.

On July 28, 2010, he was released from rehab and came back home to Campbellsville. He then began the second phase of his treatment at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington. Smith only stayed two weeks and came back home. He said he didn't feel motivated to help himself.

"At first, I took it negative," he said. "I was wondering, what in the world did I do to deserve this? Inside, I was like, 'Man, I should have just died.'"

But now, Smith said he sees his car crash as a blessing in disguise.

Smith has undergone rehabilitation at Taylor Regional Hospital's Rehab Services for more than two years now. TRH employees use its van service to get Smith to and from his rehabilitation appointments.

Smith said at first, he was afraid to try and walk again.

"I wasn't near as strong as I was now," he said. "When I first got here, I couldn't even walk."

Recently, Smith took two laps around the rehab office, which he considers a big accomplishment.

"Come a long ways from where they said I wouldn't. God's got plans for me."

Smith said he looks forward to talking with the other clients at the rehab center and getting out of the house for a while.

"I call it torture," he said, with a smile. "They'll put you through all kinds of heck here."

Smith does strengthening work, leg presses and other exercises to build strength in his legs. He also walks on the center's state-of-the-art treadmill.

Tomi Jo Moore, director of Taylor Regional Hospital's Rehab Services, said her center is the only one south of Louisville and Lexington to have such a treadmill. He said patients respond well to its verbal and visual feedback.

Moore said the equipment has only improved the services her center can offer.

"Patients can call us and we can assist with obtaining orders if they feel they are a candidate for rehab," Moore said.

And Smith said he strongly recommends physical therapy.

"It helps so much," he said. "If you sit at home, it's easy to get unmotivated."

And to help him stay motivated, there are two words that are no longer a part of his vocabulary - "can't" and "if."

"I don't ever say 'can't,'" he said. "And it's not 'if.' It's always when I start walking again."

When doing errands around town that will require him to travel longer distances, Smith rides in a wheelchair. But if he is going to an office for an appointment, he walks using his walker.

Once told he would never live alone again and that he would require around-the-clock care, Smith has beaten the odds and now has his own apartment. He said he cooks and cleans and can care for himself.

Smith has two children, Zachary, 9, and Zander, 7, who live with their mother in Campbellsville. He has a sister, Diane Cox, who also lives in Campbellsville. His other sister, Jennie Smith, died in a car crash at 19.

He says his family is a large part of his motivation to keep getting stronger. Since his car crash, Smith has turned to inspirational quotes to keep his positive spirit.

"My little motivations, they keep me going," he said. "If it don't kill you, it makes you stronger.

"You've got a choice to be happy or sad. I choose to be happy."

Though Smith has come a long way, he said, it bothers him when people make fun of him for not being able to walk as other people can.

"At first it kinda ticked me off," he said. "I'm like, 'Seriously, you're making fun of me?'"

But now, Smith said, he channels that feeling to help others. He said he speaks at his church, Elk Horn Baptist, to help motivate teens.

Smith walked for them recently to show that a person can recover from what they believed to be an impossible situation.

"[I tell them], if it's in your heart ... don't give up. There have been times I wanted to give up, but I pressed on.'"

Smith has posted videos of himself walking on YouTube to help motivate others who are going through similar medical situations.

To see Smith's profile, visit www.youtube.com/user/Hotwheels428. The number 428 comes from the date of Smith's crash, April 28.

Through his YouTube profile, Smith said, he has met other quadriplegics from all over the world, including Australia, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Smith said he recently visited a 19-year-old young man who is paralyzed from the waist down.

"He said, 'I just want to know one thing. Do you ever get mad?" I said, 'I get mad all the time.'" Smith said he told him, "You've got to have your moment and get on with it.

"It's 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical. If you can get through the mental, you've got the physical part duped."

Though Smith has come a long way from being told he will never walk again, there are still two goals he has yet to accomplish.

"I don't drive," he said. "That's one of my goals. I'm still a little hazy about it."

But if Smith can't drive again, he said that's OK.

"I'm as tickled to death if this is as far as I go," Smith said. "It's been one journey that if I could go back and change it, I wouldn't.

"Every day, I thank God that I'm able to get out of bed and open my eyes."

Smith said he also wants to be able to work again someday. He had been working at an automotive factory in Lebanon at the time of his crash.

"I guess my work is here at rehab," he said. "I miss every bit of it. I'd love to go back to work."

On his Facebook profile, Smith said, he lists his job as "full-time miracle."

That is all part of keeping a positive attitude, he said, and showing others that they can recover, too, from whatever ailment they are suffering.

Smith said he misses being able to get up and walk like other people can. He also misses running across the grass.

"It'll happen one day, either here or in heaven," he said.

"I could have been a statistic," Smith said. "Not many people get a second chance at life. I've got a second chance. I'm not gonna waste it."