Inspiration Showcase: Guest Mark Wright shares his incredible life and journey. Joining Mark is occupational therapist Sonja Gosser who was an integral part of his rehabilitation team perspectives on assistive technology that Mark uses.
Episode Two Transcript
Transcribed by: Cameron Scott
VR Workforce Studio: inspiration, education, and affirmation at work.
Welcome to the VR Workforce Studio! I’m Rick Sizemore, your host. And this is Episode Number Two. We are delighted you’ve joined us! We have an amazing story in our Inspiration Showcase today with Mark Wright. We first met Mark in Episode Number One when we started talking about his incredible life and journey. He is on deck with occupational therapist Sonja Gosser who was an integral part of his rehabilitation team and here to give us the professional’s perspective on some of the assistive technology that Mark uses. Truly, these devices are leveling the playing field for individual with disabilities so they can work and lead more fulfilling lives. Up next, Mark Wright and the road back to the trucking business.
Mark Wright owns and operates a successful trucking business in Central Virginia. Mark, welcome to the podcast! Let’s start at the beginning with you and the early days as a truck driver.
WRIGHT: I had my own business with the post office contract ever since 1996. And I drove a truck for another contractor and I was asked to manage his contract which was 15 people. So, I stayed pretty busy. And I just love the trucking business. So, even though, I worked a lot of hours, it didn’t seem like it because that was what I was made to do.
You were physically active during the early days, right?
WRIGHT: I love outdoor sports. So, I was snowboarding, whitewater rafting, zip-lining…
MAN IN BACKGROUND: [You actually were a personal trainer too, weren’t you?]
WRIGHT: Yeah, and a personal trainer for the ‘Y’.
So, what happened?
WRIGHT: I was working at the ‘Y’. And my heart just stopped. And so, they revived me. And when I went to the hospital, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. And they were saying my heart was like a 16-year-old’s heart, and they put me through all this stress. And so, for insurance they put in a pacemaker. And a year later, I got up to use the restroom. And on the way back from the bathroom, the defibrillator went off, and I hit the ground. Well, the floor which was a hard-wood floor, and broke my neck. So, I lived by myself. So, I stayed there for nine hours before someone found me. And, from there, I was phoned to Charlottesville.
Mark, what went through your mind during those nine hours, which must have seemed like an eternity, as you waited for someone to come and help you after the accident?
WRIGHT: You know, my dad, which he has passed now. He died when I was eight years old. But, I was riding a bike and trying to do tricks, and I fell off of the bike and hurt one of my arms. So, my dad was outside with my other brothers. I’m the youngest of seven. And he was like saying “Mark, come over here and help move this wood.” And I said, “Dad, my arm is hurting.” And he said, “Well, that’s why the Lord gave you two arms so, in case, one gives out!” So, taking that and laying there for nine hours, you know, he came to me and he was saying, “Even though you don’t have your hands or your legs, you’ve got the most powerful organ in your body, your brain!” So, that still works. So, instead of moving things with my hands, I had to move things with my mouth. So, I use my “brain” to get things done.
So did the road back to the trucking business begin in the hospital?
WRIGHT: I had a spinal cord doctor named Dr. Stillmack [?], and he kept telling me about Woodrow Wilson. And when I came to Woodrow Wilson, I ran my chair by sip and puff. When I left Woodrow Wilson, I was driving my chair with my joy stick. So, that was an amazing accomplishment even, you know, moving my hands that extra inch so I can control my joy stick. And, working through occupational therapy, I got to eat for the first time with my hands using the device they call WREX which floats my hand up so I can take a spoon and you know eat yogurt or oatmeal or what have you.
Sonja Gosser is an occupational therapist that worked with Mark. Sonja, welcome to the VR Workforce Studio! What was it like working with Mark?
GOSSER: Working with Mark was an amazing opportunity for me. He is a very positive, very determined, hardworking individual that I learned alot from. Mark suffered a pretty significant life-changing injury and I can’t remember one time where he ever complained about anything. He was always positive despite everything he had been through in his life. And so, it was great working with him! He reminded me every day just the importance of being positive and Mark was someone that could talk with anyone and any conversation that he had he made that person feel comfortable. And that is truly a gift!
So what is the WREX that Mark talked about?
GOSSER: One of Mark’s biggest goals when he came to Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center was to be able to feed himself. He’s an individual like the rest of us that loves to eat and enjoy socializing and having meals with friends. And so he said for him to be able to feed himself was a big goal. So, in order to make that happen, we used what is called a JAECO WREX. This is a mobile arm support that supports Mark’s arms. He doesn’t have enough muscle strength to bring his arm up to his mouth. And so, this WREX kind of puts him in a gravity-eliminated plane that allows him to scoop food and bring the food to his mouth to take a bite, to be able to feed himself.
Mark, you went back to work. What does the trucking business look like today?
WRIGHT: I have a trucking business called the Wright Company. And we have a contract with the Post Office, delivering mail from the processing plant to the branch post office from Roanoke all the way to Scottsville.
How has your disability shaped the business and how you get your work done?
WRIGHT: I’m paralyzed from my chest down. I have C4 and C5 injury. Well, I have to take orders from the post office from extra runs. So, I have an assistant, a BlueAnt that takes calls. I receive calls, and I can make calls; send texts, receive texts. And in my office, to make the schedule out, I can get on to the computer with my QuadJoy and make my schedule out to keep my schedule straight for payroll and from there I can deposit my employee’s checks to their bank accounts.
Sonja, Mark talked about the BlueAnt and the QuadJoy. Tell us what these things are.
GOSSER: The BlueAnt is a device that Mark came to Woodrow Wilson with and this is a device, its full name is the BlueAnt S4 True Handsfree. And Mark lovingly named this device “Leroy.” So, he gets to use this device to operate his cell phone. And he can do this completely hands-free. One of the problems with most of the Bluetooth devices out there is that you need to be able to push a button and usually it is in your ear so you have to get your hand up to your ear which because of Mark’s upper extremity his arm weakness and deficits he’s not able to do that. So the BlueAnt allows him to make and receive calls, to send and receive texts, to send and check emails, and to check Facebook. He can do all these things hands-free through the BlueAnt. So, these are really important tasks for him to be able to do for work. And so, it allows him to make the contacts he needs to for work.
The other device Mark uses for work is the QuadJoy Mouse. And this is a hands-free mouse that he uses to operate his computer. There is a straw, the mouse itself is on kind of a gooseneck arm that attaches to his desk and then he can wheel up to it in his wheelchair and then with his mouth move the straw in all different directions as you would move a mouse. So, what we would use our hands to move and guide the mouse, he uses the mouth, and then can sip or puff to click as he needs to. So, this mouse along with onscreen keyboard or Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which is a voice-recognition software, allows Mark to access the computer and use that independently.
Mark, the trucking business never sleeps, does it?
WRIGHT: This is the downside of the business. When you’re sleeping good, you know, the post office calls you and says, “We have an extra trip for your drivers.” And, being a contractor, they can’t tell my drivers to do an extra trip, they have to go to the contractor. And then find out where my drivers are at because I have to know where they are at to make a decision who goes to pick up you know the extra trip.
Mark, what is it like when you get a call in the middle of the night? How involved is it for you to get out of bed and get to your office?
WRIGHT: A fighter jet! A fighter jet getting ready to take off! So, I have all of these things I have to do before. But once I am in my chair, then it is all on me!
Employment is often about accommodations. But, in your business, Mark, how much sympathy do the folks you work with have at 4:00 in the morning when you’ve got to route trucks?
WRIGHT: Like I said, 4:00, even 2:00, they do not care because, in the morning, they are processing mail. And, once they are still processing mail, once the trucks go out, they have to get all of the first-class mail out. So then, after all the trucks are gone, they don’t have anybody to take the mail. So, they do not care what time of day it is. They will call you, and you have to react and get somebody there within 45 minutes.
Mark, before we reach the conclusion of this incredible story, I would like to get Anne Hudlow in on the conversation. Anne is the director of the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center Foundation. Anne, welcome to the VR Workforce Studio. How are you today?
HUDLOW: I’m fine, Rick. Thanks! And we’re excited about this podcast!
Anne, how did this story affect you?
HUDLOW: Well, you know, it moved me. It brought tears to my eyes. To think about what Mark has gone through and yet comes out fighting and winning!
Thanks Anne! We’ll hear more from Anne later in this episode. Question for you now Mark, as we wrap up, if you can give advice to an employer who’s thinking about hiring someone with a disability, what would that advice be?
WRIGHT: The thing that I want them to know is that you can have a physical disability, but your mind is so strong that just a little help from them or, like I said, the only thing I needed was a little inch to operate my wheelchair. Just a little help or whatever the client or the employee needs that their mind is still as strong or stronger than it was before their accident.
Anne, how does a story like this further your mission?
HUDLOW: Well, a story like Mark’s really inspires us at the foundation. Our mission is to work collaboratively with WWRC to create a path forward for people with disabilities. And it is so inspiring to see someone like Mark doing so well and it really just furthers our commitment to working towards that mission. \
Mark, thank you for being on the show. You’ve inspired us! And we all wish you and the Wright Company nothing but success in the months and years ahead. And thank you again for being on the podcast. Any final thoughts, Mark?
WRIGHT: You can knock me down, but I’m going to get right back up!
HUDLOW: Best of luck Mark to you and everything that you do in 2015!
You can see photos of the QuadJoy, the BlueAnt, the WREX, and the lift that Mark’s engineer brother fabricated by visiting our gallery at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Hey, I would like to thank everyone who welcomed the VR Workforce Studio online this week. We had some really nice compliments from folks that downloaded our podcast from the ITunes store or visited us on the website. If you enjoyed Mark’s story, please let us know! You can write a review on ITunes, or go out to vrworkforcestudio.com, click on the green Listen-Now tab, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you’ll see a box where you can leave us a message. Also, while you’re there, don’t forget to share an episode on one or all of our social media sharing options. Also, congratulations to Miss Wheelchair Virginia Angela West on winning the title for 2015 out at the gala in the Watson Auditorium this March. Angela will be with us in an upcoming episode later this year. Thanks to all of our special guests Mark Wright, Sonja Gosser, Anne Hudlow, and all of the VR Workforce Studio staff and crew. The VR Workforce Studio is produced at the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center which is a division of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. You can find the podcast at vrworkforcestudio.com, also available at the ITunes store by searching vocational rehabilitation. Thanks to Richard Adams for music production, Sally Murphy for our jingles, and Sizemore Design for web support provided to the WWRC Foundation. Until next time, this is Rick Sizemore inviting you to join me in creating hope and a path forward to employment so individuals with disabilities can work and lead more fulfilling lives.