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The costly road home


Portland Police Officer Paul Meyer hopes to move his family back to Tualatin home

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Officer Paul Meyer with his son, Matthew, before the November 2012 accident that claimed the use of Meyers legs. Friends of the Meyer family are holding a benefit to raise money to retrofit the Meyer family home to make it wheelchair accessible, including the kitchen.When Portland Police Officer Paul Meyer returned home from nearly two months of hospitalization and rehabilitation last January, it wasn’t the experience of navigating his Tualatin home in a wheelchair for the first time that drove him to tears. It was the simple joy of reading bedtime stories to his sons, Matthew, 7, and Russell, 10.

“I cried like a baby after I got out of their rooms,” he recalls. “It was seven weeks since I was able to do that.”

Meyer had served on the Portland Police Bureau for nearly 20 years, first as a street officer, later in a training capacity, when a freak act of nature occurred during an emergency response training session in November 2012. He was a special weapons lead instructor at the time, and was riding his ATV on Hayden Island when a 110-foot piece of Douglas fir struck him in the head.

Luckily, Meyer had been wearing a helmet, which was destroyed during the incident. Still, with two crushed thoracic vertebrae and fractured cervical vertebrae, along with considerable soft tissue damage, Meyer is not expected to regain the use of his legs.

“I’m so lucky, one, to be alive, and two, to still have my head,” Meyer said. “I don’t know how I didn’t suffer brain damage.”

Meyer is upbeat and emotionally articulate as he recounts the healing process and the small, daily routines he adjusted to as he prepared to return home.

“Riding in a car, there’s nothing to stabilize me — I’ve got to hold onto like two different places, to just keep myself stable,” he said. “I’ve got to get my hands out.”

But it is his gratitude — to his family and his community — that is most emphatic. There has been a constant stream of support, both financial and practical, for him and his family since the accident: His cousin held a fundraiser at Atomic Pizza in Portland to benefit the family. When Mary’s sorority sisters tried to order takeout from Ringside Steakhouse, the general manager responded by sending a chef and waiter to Good Samaritan Medical Center, where they set up a makeshift restaurant and waited on the couple for three hours. During a Blazers game, Meyer and his family were brought down to the center court and recognized. Three times a week, friends and neighbors deliver meals to the family. Police officers took eight-hour shifts standing outside Meyer’s door during his seven-week hospital stay.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Officer Paul Meyer before his November 2012 accident. Shortly after becoming paralyzed, Meyer celebrated 20 years with the Portland Police Bureau. And when the family realized that their longtime family home in Tualatin would not accommodate Meyer’s new wheelchair-assisted lifestyle, Meyer recalls that about 20 neighbors banded together to help Mary and her sons move into their new, more accommodating, rental home — and turn the house into a home by noon on moving day, when Meyer arrived to his new home on a hospital day pass.

“It was set up,” Meyer explained. “They had hung things on the walls. All the TVs were on, the phone was running. The Wii was set up for the kids. They moved things where they needed to go — it was a home.”

“They say there’s a few things most stressful in life — like changing jobs, moving’s one of them. And our friends and family made it so it was almost a seamless move for us, as much as possible,” he added.

But the four-mile move took Meyers’ sons away from the only home either had ever known, and it separated Meyer and his wife, Mary, from the house they’d owned and loved for nearly a decade.

Meyer hopes his family can move back to the house by the end of summer — just in time for Russell to begin Hazelbrook Middle School, a block and a half away.

But retrofitting the average suburban home to make it wheelchair-accessible comes at a considerable cost — by some estimates, in the $300,000 range.

Priorities include installing a master bedroom and bathroom downstairs, as well as an elevator that will enable Meyer to get upstairs to his kids’ rooms. The garage needs to be extended to house a wheelchair ramp. The kitchen needs to be significantly remodeled to allow Meyer to get around and reach the sink and counters.

In the meantime, Meyer said, “we’re trying to live the new normal.”

He expects to return to work sometime this year.

“The only thing I’ve lost is my legs,” he added. “That’s easy. To have all the other stuff, and be the father that my kids know and the husband my wife knows, is what’s important.”