July 10, 2003
Rankin County paraplegic modifies big rig, keeps on trucking
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
PEARL, Miss.—For years, David Smith saw the country from the driver’s seat of an 18-wheeler truck. It was a lifestyle that he loved and one he thought was gone forever when a 1994 motorcycle accident left him a paraplegic.
After trying different types of jobs, Smith realized he would never find anything he enjoyed as much as professional driving. “It’s just in my blood. I don’t like sitting behind a desk all day. I like being out and getting to see different stuff,” Smith said.
A couple of years ago, the Pearl resident decided if he had driven a truck before his accident, and had driven a passenger vehicle since, with a little creativity he could figure out a way to drive a big truck again. He and his wife discussed it, and he began considering how the truck would need to be adapted.
He bought a used, standard-shift truck and with help from family members was able to adapt the controls to allow him to drive. He climbs into the truck with assistance from a guy who rides with him and throws his wheelchair in the sleeper until they make a stop. He has a lift he plans to install on the truck to make getting in and out a little easier.
“He’s not afraid of anything. He’ll just get out there and try it,” Barbara Smith, also a paraplegic, says of her husband.
Smith, a former patient at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, demonstrated that drive and ingenuity at a recent Spinal Cord Injury Peer Group meeting held at the Jackson hospital. He brought one of his two big trucks and answered questions on how he adapted it and drives it.
Suzanne Yelverton, an occupational therapist at Methodist Rehab, said it’s very important for people with spinal cord injuries to do as much as possible and to push themselves to try new things. And it’s important for them to interact with others who have similar injuries. “David is an excellent resource for people to talk to. He believes there is nothing he can’t conquer. People with similar injuries can relate to each other. Medical professionals can answer questions, but we don’t know what they are going through,” Yelverton said.
Barbara Smith said her husband never lets the wheelchair get in the way of what he wants to do. She laughs when she tells the story about the time he used her electric wheelchair to mow the grass with a push mower. It was working great until he got the chair stuck in soggy ground. He was home alone, but somehow managed to get back to the house where he got into his manual chair and began using the lawn trimmer until their children got home to rescue the lawnmower and electric wheelchair.
He has never had any qualms about trying different things, including a variety of sports like rock climbing and water skiing. And he had no doubt he would be accepted back into the world of trucking.
He said his disability has not been a real issue because he has to meet the same standards as other drivers, the key being a good driving record. “It’s not hard as long as you’ve got a clean (driving) record. They don’t discriminate,” he said.
He has been driving cross-country for DS Trucking in Poplarville for about five months.
“He does a great job. He’s one of the best drivers we have ever had,” said Samantha Schrader, who owns DS Trucking with husband Derek. “We had heard a lot of good comments about him and we were impressed with the way he worked on his truck. We were delighted to have him start driving for us.”
And while he’s not treated any differently than any other trucker out on the road, Smith does like driving through Wisconsin on occasion. “The rest areas in Wisconsin have handicapped parking for big trucks. I had never seen anything like that.”
For more information:
Driver pursues career despite injury | The Clarion-Ledger
Pearl resident David Smith, a paraplegic, sits in the cab of an 18-wheeler he adapted to allow him to return to professional driving. The former Methodist Rehabilitation Center patient demonstrated to members of a spinal cord injury support group how the truck works.