Dick Sage: Paving the Way for Others
Updated: Mar 15, 2022
Today is National Write Your Story Day and we celebrate the one and only Dick Sage, who played an integral role in the inception of the Here and Now Project. We appreciate his willingness to share his story!
In His Own Words: Dick’s Story:
My name is Dick Sage and I sustained a C5-6 complete spinal cord injury in 1970 at the age of eighteen due to an automobile related accident. I was an athlete and suddenly I couldn’t move from the shoulders down. I spent a month at an acute care hospital on a “nightmare” contraption called a Circo- Electric bed, rotating me “head-over-heels” every two hours to prevent pressure sores. I would almost black-out each time the bed would reach the vertical point of the turn. My family and friends were very supportive and would lie on the floor to face me while I was in the prone position.
I was excited when I was told that I would be going to Good Samaritan Hospital for rehabilitation. Finally, I’d have an opportunity to get up in a wheelchair and make some real progress. Good Samaritan Rehab had an upbeat, positive atmosphere, and other newly spinal cord injured patients. Progress came slower than I had hoped, but I eventually learned how to feed myself and groom myself. Power wheelchairs were available, but there were no payors at that time. A community collection was taken up for me to purchase a manual chair with “quad knobs”. With practice, I was able to slowly push the chair on the level, linoleum floors of rehab. Five months of rehab and time for discharge into a new world, ready or not.
I had become friends with a rehab orderly who agreed to be my attendant/roommate. We, along with another newly injured 18-year-old quad and her attendant, rented a house and enrolled in Fort Steilacoom Community College (now, Pierce College) to finish high school and get a few college credits. The school was brand new and existed only of portables. It was quite a challenge due to the lack of accessibility and we had to be physically lifted in our chairs to enter the portables. Eventually, two of my housemates went separate ways, and my roommate and I searched for an apartment.
Remember, this was long before the ADA or any other accessibility rights or standards. There was no accessible transportation, no accessible housing, and no curb cuts. Several apartment managers were unwilling to rent to a wheelchair user due to lack of awareness and fear. After lots of looking, we finally found an owner/manager willing to rent a non-accessible ground floor unit to us. The support from my family during this time was immeasurable and I made do in an inaccessible world.
On Getting Involved
My first entry into advocacy was as a co-founder (along with another Good Sam alum) of The Greater Puget Sound Chapter of National Paraplegia Foundation. We formed a board, held regular meetings and published a quarterly newsletter on disability activities and events in the area. We advocated for disability awareness and raised money for research, with our highlight event being an ice cream and frozen yogurt booth at the Pierce County Fair each year.
I returned to school in the ‘80s to study computer programming. Upon graduation, I got a job as a programmer analyst at the Tacoma School District. During this same period, I became involved with the Division of Vocational and pursued the goal of re-learning to drive a conversion van with hand controls. This was a life changing event, having my own personal vehicle that I could operate completely independently. It really opened up my world in countless ways.
In 1989, I was asked to serve on the board for the Center for Independence, an Independent Living Center, which was affiliated with Good Samaritan Hospital. That was where I met fellow board members Maggie Sweazy, Director of Rehab Services for Good Samaritan, and Ed Miller, Vice President, Good Samaritan Hospital. They asked me to work with Irene Hughes, Director of the Center for Independence, to develop a formalized peer support counseling program for newly spinal cord injured individuals and their families at the hospital and for people with disabilities living in the community. This was something that was always near and dear to my heart, knowing that a program such as this would have been beneficial to me and others who were newly injured. However, I was working 40 hours a week at the school district and didn’t have the time to devote to a new project.
The lure continued and I decided to leave the district and pursue something of greater meaning and purpose. Since this development project would only be part-time, I needed to do something else to pay the bills. So, I got involved with investing and became a stock trader and real estate investor. I also did some case management work for the Center for Independence and consultant work for the State of Washington, which involved disability advocacy, disability rights, and development of the COPES program and nurse delegation.
Developing the Peer Support Program was accomplished by blending the philosophies and methods of the independent living movement with medical rehabilitation services. I recruited a team of six other dedicated and talented peer support workers, whom I hand selected and personally trained. I am passionate about the work I do and I am proud to have been the coordinator of this very successful program for over 30 years. It has benefited hundreds of individuals.
During this same period, I served on a SCI core group that developed a series of SCI Educational classes designed for newly injured individuals and their families while going through inpatient rehab. It has since been offered to out-patients and others in the community. Class topics include SCI Anatomy & Physiology, Bladder Management, Bowel Management & Nutrition, Skin Care, Psychological Adjustment to SCI, Mobility (Wheelchairs/Seating/Positioning), Vocational Issues, Community Accessibility and Resources, and Attendant Management.
On Struggles and Successes:
Struggles were numerous early on. Attitudinal and architectural barriers were everywhere. People with disabilities were not very “visible” in the early 70s. I would go to a ball game or the Tacoma Mall and not see another wheelchair. There were lots of people living in the area with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities, it’s just that people were not getting out and about for a number of reasons, including lack of accessible housing, lack of accessible transportation, lack of accessible buildings sidewalks, curb cuts, etc. It took time to accept my physical limitations and my new life.
One step toward success was being seen at Craig Hospital for a two-week re-evaluation in the mid-70s. It was a very progressive atmosphere and environment. I had an opportunity to meet other spinal cord injured individuals from all over the country. It was at Craig, where I got my first powerchair, got fitted for a tenodesis splint, and learned new ways for ADLs. I began to see the possibilities of living a full and productive life.
One of my biggest successes was learning to drive my own adaptive van. That truly opened my world. It was also a success to get back into the workforce, to meet and marry my lovely, supportive wife and to be able to help and guide others.
I think that these struggles and successes helped to shape me in many ways. I’m thankful and grateful for what I have. I appreciate simpler things. I don’t take as much for granted. I learned patience. I learned that if you want something enough, you can do it through determination, hard work, perseverance, and will.
How The Here and Now Project Helps Others:
The Here & Now Project has been impactful through connections made with others and sharing experiences. It’s very meaningful to offer hope to others and to see their growth.
Dick continues to work at Good Samaritan in his role as Peer Support Coordinator/SCI Specialist where he has helped hundreds of newly paralyzed individuals begin their recovery journeys including H&NP’s Cofounder and President, Kenny Salvini, after he was first injured in 2004. "Dick was instrumental in shaping the foundation of our fellowship when we first launched," Salvini recalls. "There would be no Here and Now Project without Dick Sage."
Dick is married to his beautiful and supportive wife, Angie, has two step-sons and four very active grandchildren. When not mentoring others, he enjoys sports, fishing, hiking, poker, and traveling.