Dan and Gail were young and in love. They started dating in high school when Gail was a junior and Dan was a senior. He gave her and a girlfriend a ride home from a basketball game and the rest is history, “we were a couple from then on” said Gail. She fell for him as he was cute with curly blonde hair, smart and creative. They had both come from unusual homes where Gail was basically raising herself and his parents were older, almost 60 by then. Dan and Gail spent all their time together and got engaged when Gail was a senior in high school. “He just thought I hung the moon and I so needed that.”
Their engagement happened casually as they just went and looked at rings. It was June 1970. Dan was attending Highline College and Gail was working full time as a clerk at the phone company. They didn’t have any grand plans to get married. Dan was injured in a car accident early August that same year. He broke his neck and became a C4-5 incomplete quadriplegic.
At the time of his injury Gail was at home and got a call from one of his friends telling her that he had been in an accident. His parents were in Canada on vacation. Someone came to pick Gail up and they finally tracked down his parents the next day, “it was pretty traumatic” Gail recalls. Dan was in the hospital for 6 months - first in Seattle and then at Good Sam in Puyallup.
Gail was still working in Seattle, but would visit Dan at the hospital every day after work. She had just gotten her drivers license and would go drive at night to see Dan. “I just didn’t think of leaving. God had prepared me for that with some life experiences prior. I was just there and we did it together.”
Post Injury Life Together
Gail and Dan did a lot of remarkable stuff. Dan went on to obtain his Accounting Degree at the University of Washington School of Business and then worked full-time for the IRS. Gail was his cheerleader, his supporter and the extroverted half of his introverted self. She encouraged him to try different things and pushed him to stretch outside his comfort zone. They were involved in their church community, joined many clubs and traveled. They went to Hawaii numerous times, but typically traveled with the manual chair as she remembers “it’s a whole different ball game than traveling with a power chair.”
Gail and Dan had a Saint Bernard who was a show dog. They went to dog shows and camped on a mattress in the back of their truck which is one of her favorite memories. The dog took up the whole front seat because she was so big. Gail would sit down on the tailgate and drag Dan in the truck to sleep. “I don’t have any memories of the logistics of the personal care, but we still had to do all of that stuff.”
Gail recounts another travel story. They had always gone to a rotary club auction that a friend was in but one year they were going to miss it so she decided to buy four $10 tickets. They won a cruise through the Panama Canal in 2000 and went on a 17-day cruise out of San Francisco. Gail did all the transfers. “I always told him he was so lucky he was married to a tall Norwegian. Cause a little person could have never done what we did.” Gail and Dan just did life.
One Connection Started It All
Kenny, Gail and Dan all found themselves at the Kiwanis Club Fundraiser in January 2010. Kenny was on one of his first social outings after spending six years as a virtual shut-in. Dan just rolled over and started talking to Kenny “it was one of the delights of my life - I can still picture him talking to Kenny at that kiwanis dinner. The two of them, just talking, talking.” Dan had not had a pressure sore for 30 years after he was hurt but he had gotten one from a bad seating eval. He healed that spot with the RIDE cushion which Gail had found through online research.
Kenny remembers talking with Dan about life after injury and then pressure sores as Kenny was trying to heal a sore of his own. Kenny remarks “I didn’t quite realize it at the time but it was a pivotal moment that I could see there was a lot of life and love to be experienced after injury.” As Gail spoke of the encounter she said it was an impactful moment for Dan, too.
The Inception of the Here and Now Project
After the Kiwanis fundraiser life continued as normal. Gail found herself connecting with Todd Stabelfeldt at a mutual friends’ surprise party. She remained friends through Facebook and learned about tech stuff for Dan through Todd. When Todd had a party for his 25th anniversary of his injury, both Kenny and Gail/Dan found themselves reunited. There were seven quadriplegics and their families there and Gail remembers everyone was young enough to be their kid, “it was just so fun.” She recalls, “Todd wanted to have a cherry seed spitting contest and he was a ringer. He knew what he was doing.”
For the first time, Dan and Gail found themselves around a group of people in wheelchairs, “it was just so delightful” she said. The following year everyone regathered at Kenny’s house. Gail remembers Todd asking Dan how fast his wheelchair would go and Dan said “I don’t know.” They ended up having races in the middle of the street, “I was just sure Dan was going to crash and die. I was so nervous. It was really the best day ever.”
Dan and Gail were going to sponsor the next year’s meet up. That’s why it ended up at the DACA Barn in Fife, but Dan passed away in February due to a reopened pressure sore.
Gail says “the Here and Now Project is a huge blessing.” They didn’t have the option to learn from others because the community created through the Here and Now Project wasn’t available to them back then and it never occurred to them to seek it out.
Advice for Others
“Be sure you have people around you and ask for help. Surround yourself with people,” Gail says. According to Gail, they didn’t really do that although she always had women friends to help her through. She was the pusher to get Dan to do stuff. “My goal was to help him live not only just the best life but just the easiest life. I made some mistakes in that part because it left him at the end of his life not thinking I was a separate person than he was.”
Gail also shared that she still has a friend who became a quadriplegic at the age of 16 who turned 70 this week and feels if you can get through the first 10 years after an injury, one’s life expectancy can be somewhat normal. Dan found his purpose through work and Gail thinks that’s part of why he lived so long.
Gail re-married 4 years after Dan passed away. Her and her husband, Alan, have a home in Arizona with their new to them 10 year old dog, Jack and 16 year old cat, Libby. She remains involved in the church and has enjoyed making new friends in Arizona. Gail has volunteered at some of our events and will always be a part of our here and now project family. She said “I’m very moved that Dan’s life continues to be a part of this.”
A Lasting Legacy
The significance of the chance encounter at the Kiwanis fundraiser that day goes beyond Dan and Kenny and stretches into the new connections and here and now project community today. “If I could interpret what that conversation meant to Kenny - it was just showing him how much he can do. Even in the olden days.”
That conversation was a monumental moment in Kenny’s story and showed him the importance of getting knee to knee with people who have been where you’ve been. To share, learn from and go through this life with others who just get it. Thus the inception of the Here and Now Project.
Thank you Dan and Gail for helping to pave the way for others. Your legacy lives on as a couple who showed us how to “do life.”