9,000 Needles

From Men’s Health:

Mr. Kentucky is 11,300 miles away from home, lying in a hospital bed, and his right side is paralyzed. His massive, chiseled muscles—the ones that won Devin Dearth the state bodybuilding title—aren’t their former size, but he still bulges at the seams. Nurses at the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Tianjin, China, surround him and then part as his new doctor enters the room. The doctor, taller than everyone else, struts to the side of the bed and sticks his hand out for Devin to shake. Try as he can, Mr. Kentucky just can’t move his right hand.

Then the doctor begins to insert needles into Devin. Acupuncture to stimulate his paralyzed nerves, yes, but of a different sort: these needles are wider than any you’d find in the United States. More effective, says the doctor. He places them everywhere into Devin: his legs, arms, head, tongue, eyelids; nothing is left unpunctured. The needles will remain in him for 20 minutes, but in the meantime, the doctor asks Devin to move the frozen extremities on his right side.

It starts with his leg. The same leg that had squatted millions of pounds over the course of his 40-years lay flat and trembling. But then Devin slowly lifts it off of the bed. He hasn’t moved like that for months. And then his right arm, the one that had failed him just 15-minutes before, moves.

A Brain Bleed Changes Everything
Three years ago Devin was the Mr. Kentucky. A champion body builder. Arguably the hardest working person in the Blue Grass State. He hit the gym at 4 o’clock in the morning, every morning, then spent 8 hours a day working his six-figure job, afterward returning home to be with his wife and three children.

But one day while lifting weights—pop!—it all changed. His brain stem—the area that acts as the on and off ramp for all of the nerves in the human brain—bled; a rare occurrence with serious consequence. A small leak, really. But when that area of your brain springs event he smallest leak, 95% of the time it kills you. Devin Dearth isn’t a 95 percenter.

After weeks in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Kentucky and 3 months of in-hospital therapy, Devin was sent home with a paralyzed right side, wheelchair bound, drooling, and unable to walk or communicate effectively. His insurance had run out, and his family was struggling to pay for the at-home therapy that he required.

Devin’s mind was there, but his body was a prison. He wasn’t improving with the at-home therapy, and he seemed relegated to a paralyzed, cut-off existence for the rest of his life. Until his brother, a filmmaker and bodybuilder, stumbled upon the story of a woman who had also suffered from a brain bleed, and had then gone to China to undergo a 3-month regimen of traditional Chinese medicine and physical therapy. It worked for her, and it was also 1/5th of the cost of just one month of his at-home therapy.

With Progress Stalled, Devin Looks Overseas for Treatment
When his brother brought up the treatment, Devin’s family members were skeptical—China? Seriously, China? But for Devin, China was an escape—an opportunity where none existed.

Every day the Chinese doctors and nurses put Devin through a brutal regimen of healing. They’d load him head to toe with needles. Afterward they’d place fire-cups—an ancient procedure that is said to increase blood flow and promote healing—all over him. Then they’d give him physical therapy that wasn’t so different from the kind he’d receive at home. And all the while, Devin undertook his rehabilitation like he took on everything else: he did it to the best of his ability, better than anyone had seen before.

9,000 needles and 12 weeks later, Devin left China. Where he’d rolled into the hospital in a wheelchair, more or less incapacitated, he walked boldly out with the help of his brother. He’d made immense gains during his time: his right side was no longer totally paralyzed, and he was able to speak in understandable, full sentences. He was on the right track.

Today: Optimistic, Back at the Gym, and Dedicated as Ever
And he still is. Three years since he left China, Devin still speaks in a slurred tone, and he still needs help to walk. But he can walk, and he can speak, and his cheerful, optimistic personality is back—a feat that wouldn’t have occurred had he not dedicated himself so fully to his recovery.

Devin is featured in the documentary 9,000 Needles, which will be released this October.

Sympathy for Delicious: Tragic life experiences inspire heartthrob actor’s 10-year journey to directorial debut

From the New York Post:

“Life’s bulls – – t! There’s no way out!”

So declares a paralyzed and homeless deejay, played by Christopher Thornton in “Sympathy for Delicious,” upon finding that everything he owns has been stolen from the car he’s been sleeping in.

“There is a way out,” says the local skid-row priest, played by Mark Ruffalo, “but you’re gonna have to find it.”

As it happens, Ruffalo — who makes his directorial debut with the film, out Friday — understands the challenge of transcending life’s most trying situations as much as anyone.

In December 2008, while “Sympathy for Delicious” was in pre-production, Scott Ruffalo, the beloved little brother that Mark built many a treehouse with while growing up in Kenosha, Wis., was shot to death in his Beverly Hills condo. (Acquaintances on the scene claimed he died playing Russian roulette. The police consider it an unsolved homicide.)

His brother’s death at 39 made directing the film, which is dedicated to Scott, a surreal and devastating experience. Ruffalo says he was “in a state of shock” while making most of the movie. Yet as horrific as his brother’s death was, it was only the latest in a series of tragedies in Ruffalo’s life.

In 1994, his longtime best friend Michael, then 26, killed himself. Ruffalo later credited this for teaching him “the value of life,” and said it strengthened his resolve to carry on as an actor.

Ruffalo came to prominence with the 2000 family drama “You Can Count on Me,” and married a beautiful French actress named Sunrise Coigney that same year. Their son, Keen, was born in 2001. Several weeks after this joyous event, Ruffalo’s world came crashing down.

“I had a bad dream, and woke up in tears,” he told Parade Magazine. “In the dream, I knew I had a brain tumor.”

The dream seemed so real that he visited a doctor and learned he really did have a tumor, an acoustic neuroma that turned out to be benign. Still, Ruffalo endured a 10-hour operation that left his face partially paralyzed for most of the next year.

He was sure his career was over.

Rumors spread throughout Hollywood that Ruffalo was drunk, on drugs or had AIDS. He checked his face daily for months on end, praying for a flicker of activity, but believed the paralysis to be permanent.

Then, one day, he detected minuscule movement in one eye.

“I showed my wife,” he said. “We started jumping for joy, yelling, ‘It’s coming back!’ We’d been through so much together, and we just burst into tears. In another three months my face came completely back.”

As he re-ignited his acting career, Ruffalo also pursued a passion project on the other side of the camera. He had befriended Christopher Thornton while studying acting at LA’s Stella Adler Conservatory. They shared an apartment, but soon after moving in together, Thornton broke his spine in a climbing accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Finding himself adrift, Thornton briefly looked into faith healing. Soon seeing the folly in that, he was inspired to write a 198-page script about a homeless deejay in a wheelchair who tries faith healing, rejects it, then discovers that he has the power to heal others, but not himself.

When he read the script, Ruffalo knew he had to direct it, and the film became the pair’s mutual obsession for the next 10 years. Ruffalo worked with Thornton to develop 40 different drafts of the script, and they immersed themselves in related experiences including Ruffalo sending Thornton to spend several days living in his car.

But the pair’s passion failed to move the studios, and even Ruffalo’s wife began imploring him to drop the project. The film was close to being made, only to then fall apart, several times before an old friend came through with financing. Then, as Ruffalo prepared to finally see his dream realized, Scott was killed.

With his brother’s death and his frustration with the film creating massive disillusionment with Hollywood, Ruffalo fired his handlers and deserted LA, moving with Sunrise and their three children to the small town of Callicoon, NY — about two hours northwest of New York City, near Port Jervis — where he enjoys growing eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes in his garden.

“It wasn’t until I lived through a winter in upstate New York, where it was all blanketed with snow and there was nothing but time, that I started coming to terms with what had happened,” Ruffalo, 43, told the Telegraph. “Looking back, I think there was a little grief-driven madness in what I did. They say you’re not supposed to make any major decisions while you are grieving, but I did the opposite.”

Ruffalo intended to leave acting altogether, but Julianne Moore, a good friend of Sunrise’s, persuaded him to take a part he had first rejected — that of the sperm donor in her new film, “The Kids Are All Right.”

Ruffalo saw an openness in the character that reminded him of Scott, and perceived the role as a way to celebrate his brother’s life. Playing the part not only rejuvenated the joy he found in acting, but earned him his first Oscar nomination.

Next up for Ruffalo is the most uncharacteristic part he’s played, that of Bruce Banner — a k a The Hulk — in “The Avengers.” He lost 15 pounds for the role, which was filmed using motion capture technology that transformed him into two tons of muscular green anger.

While Ruffalo is ready to embrace the joy and success to come, directing “Sympathy for Delicious” through a turbulent time in his life ultimately helped ground him.

Finishing the film provided him with a “real-life sense of catharsis,” he told Details. “Not the heavens opening up. More like: I f – – king didn’t die. I’m still getting by. Which today for a human being is a lot, you know?”

The Ex

The Ex is a movie about marital mishegoss with a twist. While there are plenty of movies about married couples where one or the other’s “exes” are re-encountered, usually to challenge marital fidelity, I think this is the first I have seen where the ex in question appears to have an obvious physical disability; he is in a wheelchair, said to be “paralyzed from the waist down”. Having worked his way up in the field of advertising, Chip has nevertheless (no wheelchair ramp to the ad agency is shown) accomplished more career success than Sofia’s husband Tom, who starts out as a chef, but in order to make the money to enable his wife to stay home when she has a baby, he moves to Ohio and takes a job with his father-in-law at the advertising company where Chip, the ex, is a co-worker.

Chip still wants to have a relationship with Sofia, and as a master manipulator of people and situations, he makes Tom look bad on his job, gets Sofia’s father fired, and appears to be making progress getting Sofia nearer to getting into bed with him. It is made clear elsewhere in the movie that Chip gets sympathy (and sex) from women. However, Tom, convinced that Chip is faking his physical disability, tangles with him on several occasions as their relationship gets increasingly hostile.

Strangely, perhaps because it is easier to portray on screen than the subtleties of office politics, Tom is more overtly concerned with the idea that Chip is faking his physical disability than with proving his attempts to effect Tom’s career sabotage or the fact that Chip is making time with his wife, though the latter is something which is sufficiently motivating for Tom to threaten Chip. On one occasion, Tom tries to expose Chip as a faker by getting him out of his wheelchair and pushing him down the stairs, convinced that the instinct for self-preservation will kick in and Chip with move his legs and right himself to avoid the fall, but Chip does not do this and Tom ends up looking even worse in front of others. Chip has Tom in a bind, because Tom feels guilty about having negative feelings about a man who can’t walk, and society condemns Tom for hostility towards a man in a wheelchair, no matter how deserving he may be. The one bright spot is that Chip has applied for a job in Spain, and, if he gets it, he will be leaving, after all. (Chip’s less obvious mental disability is that he is a sociopath.)

Everything seems to be going Chip’s way, but in order to establish to the audience that Chip is, indeed, a wheelchair villain, towards the end of the movie, he gives a movie villains’ monologue of the sort usually declaimed by James Bond movie villains and Dr. Evil. Chip, Tom, and Sofia are at a restaurant sitting around a table when Chip reveals that he has defeated Tom “in every possible way” including in the eyes of his Sofia, whom he invites on a plane to Spain.

But at the last minute, in order to effect a “happy ending” for the married couple and to imply the intervention of a Higher Power dealing out cosmic justice, the tables are turned on Chip: Sofia refuses Chip’s offer, and declares to Tom, “You couldn’t lose me even if you tried. And you’ve been trying really hard lately.” Chip, in the midst of gloating, reveals he _has_ been faking his disability “have you tried to get a parking spot at the mall during Christmas shopping season?”, stands up, and leaves the restaurant on foot, doing a victory dance while lifting his wheelchair over his head, looking into the window of the restaurant, but not into oncoming traffic, where a bus promptly runs him over. He gets paralyzed from the waist down for real this time, and (this surely has to be Divine Justice for his sexual misconduct) it is discovered that he has testicular cancer.

Tom and Sofia manage to get a job and an apartment in NYC, and settle down with baby Oliver, having gotten their nuclear family off to an enviably secure start.

Inside Man

You might think Inside Man‘s “Mobile Command Officer Rourke” is just another non-disabled actor plopped into a wheelchair for a bit part as the token cripple–there’s no way a uniformed policeman in a wheelchair could easily get inside a mobile command unit with narrow doorways and stairs–but Daryl “Chill” Mitchell is the real deal.

Born a biped in the Bronx, New York City, Mitchell enjoyed success as both a rapper in the ’90s and later as an actor in House Party and its sequel, Sgt. Bilko, Galaxy Quest, 10 Things I Hate About You, and the TV sitcoms The John Larroquette Show and Veronica’s Closet. He was paralyzed from the waist down by a motorcycle accident in 2001. Fortunately, Mitchell already had a disabled friend to show him the ropes, and support from friends including Denzel Washington and Chris Tucker allowed him to continue his acting career.

He has since appeared on TV shows Ed, Law and Order, Brothers, Desperate Housewives, and Wizards of Waverly Place, started the Daryl Mitchell Foundation, received the NAACP Image Award, and serves as a spokesperson for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.