Although an automobile crash left Corinth Baptist Church Pastor James Stewart in the hospital for two weeks and confined to a wheelchair for another month, he remains optimistic about his recovery and has found a new appreciation for the community that he lives in.
"I've learned the importance of living in a community like we do," said Stewart. "We are so lucky to have everything we have, the healthcare and the people who care about each other."
On Aug. 27, Stewart was on his way from his home to Preformed Line Products in Rogers, Ark., where he has been employed as an electrical engineer for 15 years. At around 5:30 a.m. Stewart's vehicle collided with an International tractor trailer. When emergency personnel arrived on scene, Stewart was not aware of the extent of his injuries. He tried to get out of the vehicle, but one leg was pinned in the automobile.
"The ambulance arrived quickly and responded well," said Stewart. "I was conscious the whole time. I called my wife (Janell) and told her that I had been in an accident."
An ambulance transported Stewart from the scene of the accident to the Cassville Municipal Airport where he was transferred to a helicopter and airlifted to St. John's Hospital in Springfield.
"The deputies, EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and everyone else did a very professional job," said Stewart. "When I was in the helicopter, they had me strapped to a board and wouldn't let me look out the window. That is my only complaint."
When Stewart arrived at the hospital in Springfield, physicians found he had two broken heels, a broken leg and a fractured hip. Luckily he did not suffer any internal injuries in the crash.
Over the next two weeks, Stewart underwent three major surgeries to repair his fractures. Later he was transferred to St. John's Hospital-Cassville where he stayed until he was strong enough to return to his home on Oct. 2.
Today, Stewart is on the road to a complete recovery and continues his physical and occupational therapy in his home thanks to home healthcare professionals from Cox Health Center Cassville.
"He has been wonderful to work with," said Jenae Stoll, Cox Health Center Cassville occupational therapist. "James and Janell have both been very receptive to any suggestions that I can make to help him maintain his independence, which is my goal."
Stoll helps Stewart learn to perform daily tasks with the aide of healthcare devices. In addition to an occupational therapist, Stewart is assisted by home healthcare nurse Beth Richardson and physical therapist Marsha Trantham.
"Jenae and all of the nurses and therapists that come to the house to track and encourage my progress have been great. Dr. Connie Butler has been great throughout, making sure my medications are right and helping me through the transition to come home," said Stewart. "Thanks to the physical therapy, I am probably in better shape now than I have been in some time."
Prior to the car crash, the quadricep in Stewart's right leg had atrophied and he was able to lift his leg only a few inches without assistance. Due to the physical therapy exercises, Stewart is now able to lift the leg higher than he had been able to for many years.
In addition to his appreciation for the healthcare professionals that have helped him through his recovery, Stewart has found a new appreciation for the community in which he lives.
On Oct. 20, Stewart learned just how much people in Barry County care about each other when hundreds of individuals turned out for a truck and tractor pull benefit that raised over $15,000 to help pay medical expenses associated with Stewart's recovery.
"Jeff and Michelle Bolton directed the truck and tractor pull," said Mike Perez, a member of the Corinth Baptist Church, which helped sponsor the event, "but the entire community came together to help. All of the local businesses gave for the event."
Some local businesses that donated were Hutchens Construction, Les Jacobs Ford-Mercury, Fohn Funeral Homes and Barry Electric.
"John Sullivan sold pulled pork sandwiches, and Debbie Gatley and Glenda Maddux over-saw the silent auction, which raised $3,100," said Perez. "We cooked hamburgers and hotdogs. The spirit of giving was really there. We had many people who came up to get a cup of coffee and handed us $5 and when we went to give them change said just keep it.
"The people of Corinth Baptist worked so hard," said Perez. "The youth of our church, children and teens walked through the crowd selling hamburgers and hotdogs. They were very enthusiastic."
"People donated that don't even know me," said Stewart. "The benefit was overwhelming. It made me realize just how lucky we are to live in a community that really cares about their neighbors, even neighbors they don't know."
Although Stewart is a volunteer chaplain at St. John's Hospital-Cassville and has always understood the importance of giving, he said he will take benefit events even more seriously in the future.
"I want to be able to give back when someone else is in need," said Stewart. "Giving $5 or $1, even if you don't know the person, can make a difference. That's community, and it doesn't matter if you know the person or not."
Stewart has set some major goals that he hopes to accomplish over the next few months. His first goal is to relieve his associate pastor, Bob Neeley, by returning to Corinth Baptist Church.
"Church is my number one goal," said Stewart. "I want to continue to strengthen myself to get weight bearing and start walking again."
According to Stewart's orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Troy Caron, Stewart will need to participate in around three months of non-weight bearing physical therapy before he can begin walking again. Stewart began non-weight bearing therapy in September and hopes to be walking by his wedding anniversary on Dec. 30.
Between physical therapy sessions, Stewart remains busy as the director of the Barry County Evangelists Association. Currently, he is working to schedule the annual evangelist conference that is scheduled to be held in February of 2008.
Stewart has been the Corinth Baptist Church pastor for the last nine years. The Stewarts, who have one son, Dru, live south of Cassville.