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Local man lives life with zeal, feels blessed

April 10, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

ST. JAMES - To say Jim Mills enjoys life is putting it mildly.

Mills, 64, smiles a lot, is quick with a joke and tries to live every minute with zeal and enthusiasm.

"I get up early each day, usually around 7:30 a.m.," Mills said. "I like to get going."

In the course of an average day, Mills - a quadraplegic who lives in the St. James area - might go grocery shopping or perhaps work on his finances.

He often goes out to eat with family and friends, and he enjoys good food. Though as a diabetic, he has to watch his diet.

"I'm really looking forward to a model train show I'm going to be attending later this month in York, Pa.," said Mills, whose basement has been transformed into a model railroader's delight with eight trains set up in a permanent display.

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He is a member of the Train Collectors Association.

Mills also loves to keep up with his interest in classic cars as a member of the Mid-Atlantic Impala Association.

Mills has twice been to Walt Disney World in Florida and often travels along the East Coast visiting friends, some of whom he knew when he was in the military.

One friend he visits was with him on a speedboat in Michigan in 1963 when the boat hit a sandbar and Mills was thrown off the front.

"I hit the back of my head somehow, but I don't remember," he said.

What he later learned was that he had broken his neck at the C-4 and C-5 vertebrae and he was picked up the wrong way by the well-meaning people who rescued him, causing him to become a paraplegic at the age of 22.

"No one knew a lot about neck injuries in those days," Mills said. After a long stint in a Michigan hospital, he was flown to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, Md., where he had his first operation. Later, he went to a rehabilitation hospital in Richmond, Va.

When he first came home to Washington County, Mills was cared for by county Health Department home health aides and he said they were wonderful.

"I could use my arms until 1994," Mills said. "I could feed myself and drive my wheelchair with my hands until then."

A cyst on his brain stem had to be removed that year. As a result, Mills lost the use of his hands and arms. He has been a quadraplegic for 12 years.

The house he lives in was built especially for his needs in 1965. There is an elevator, the corridors are wide and everything is at a height to suit him in his wheelchair, which he operates with a mouth control.

Friends and family members share the duties necessary to keep Mills at home.

Mills credits his strong faith with sustaining him through the years.

"If it wasn't for God, I wouldn't be here," he said. "After all, 43 years is a long time to be in a wheelchair."

A 1959 graduate of Williamsport High School, Mills worked on a farm briefly until he went into the military that same year. Four years later, the accident sent his life into an entirely new direction.

"You know, if this had never happened, I wouldn't have met the wonderful people I've known," Mills said. "This is a great life for me. I'm not lucky ... I've been blessed."

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