In April 2000, while on a camping trip in the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park, Jared Dunten dove into the Rio Grande with a bar of soap to clean himself up – and hit a sandbar. He woke up in an intensive care unit in Lubbock, Texas, paralyzed from the neck down and breathing with the help of a ventilator. The impact had broken his neck at C4 and C5 and injured his spinal cord. His close friend and hiking companion, Marty Butler, pulled him out of the river and saved his life.
“In the hospital in Lubbock I was fighting pneumonia and a decubitus ulcer I developed while in the ICU,” Jared says. “Some said I would never breathe on my own or even speak again. But after about a month and a half, I began to recover.”
Flown by air ambulance to TIRR Memorial Hermann for rehabilitation, he fought his way off the ventilator and, after another month and a half, began breathing on his own. “It was touch and go for me as far as therapy goes,” he recalls. “The ulcer was very bad and took a long time to heal.” He underwent three surgeries to close the ulcer while at TIRR, which at that time was still running an operating room.
Jared says the unwavering love of his parents pushed him forward. “I also had amazing support from friends and co-workers, as well as from strangers. I received an incredible call from GSD&M, the advertising agency where I worked as a copywriter. They told me not to worry about my job or a place to live, that they would help with the building of a small house next to my parents’ home outside Austin.”
He continued to improve and after a nearly four-month stay at TIRR was discharged to home. In 2002, encouraged by his mother, Jared began to paint using his mouth. In 2004, he was awarded a student membership in the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (AMFPA), a worldwide organization of artists that stages exhibitions, sells original art works and arranges for publishing houses to reproduce their works as artistic greeting cards and calendars. Jared’s art can be viewed at jdunten.com.
In 2006, Dunten married the love of his life Kimberly Dunten. He continues to write for GSD&M on a contract basis and looks forward to the day when he’ll walk again. Toward that goal, he and his friends Marty Butler, Adam Butler and Craig Parker founded Will Walk (willwalk.org), a foundation that works in conjunction with the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation and other organizations to raise funds for the first U.S. human clinical trial of adult stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury patients. In 2011, Jared and Kimberly welcomed twin boys, Levi and Asher.
“One of the reasons I started painting was to create a platform to let people know that paralysis doesn’t have to be permanent,” Jared says. “We will find a cure sooner, rather than later. For me, it’s not a question of if, but when. I’m going to paint myself out of this wheelchair.”
For the 32nd consecutive year, TIRR Memorial Hermann is recognized as the best rehabilitation hospital in Texas and No. 2 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report's "Best Rehabilitation Hospitals" in America.Learn More
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