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Over Coffee

From One Survivor to Another
By Penny Fletcher
Apr 9, 2009 - 1:33:53 PM

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Usually, after a much-publicized tragedy many warm-hearted people offer help to the family, but a year later, they’ve gone on to other things.
Not this time.
When John Arnold heard about the attack on the 18-year-old girl outside the Bloomingdale Branch Library April 24, 2008, his heart went out to her. At the time, John was still slowly recuperating from a painful disease that had caused doctors to tell him he would never walk again.
The day he told me of his efforts to help this girl he had never met, he was able to walk to his door and open it with only the help of a cane. Just a few months before, he had graduated from using a walker, and before that, a wheelchair.
Now the wheelchair sits in the corner of his sunroom and he walks slowly, and with care.
“My wife had Sam Cook’s (construction team) take out all the carpet and put in this laminate flooring, widen the doorways and make arrangements in the bathroom all in seven days,” he said. “When she heard they were sending me home from the rehab center, they said I’d never walk again. She made the earth move to accommodate a wheelchair. I’ll never know how she accomplished everything so fast.”
John and his wife Shirley moved to Sun City Center in 2002 after their son was transferred to Tampa. “We came down for the Christening (of a grandchild) and then coincidentally, after we got back up North, someone in our church mentioned that Sun City Center was a good retirement community. My wife still works but she’ll probably retire next year.”
A long-time member of the Knights of Columbus, John joined local Knights Council No. 7282 at Prince of Peace Catholic Church almost as soon as they arrived. Besides this, he worked on the Security Patrol and did volunteer work in exchange for golf privileges at Freedom Fairways Golf Club.
But by 2006, his back pain had progressed noticeably, getting worse every day and he could no longer play golf.
Soon, he couldn’t bend either, and the pain was constant.
“I had all kinds of tests. They sent me from South Bay (hospital) to Blake (in Bradenton). They said I needed an MRI but the pain was too bad for me to lie still for the 40 minutes it would take. Finally, they did surgery on it.”
It was Aug. 13, 2006 when the surgeon found a mass on his spine. “Fortunately it wasn’t alive,” John said. “But somehow it was causing the spine to collapse. They removed the mass and put three cadaver discs into my spine.”
John Arnold stands outside his Sun City Center home and talks about the benefit pancake breakfast he and his fellow Knights of Columbus are planning to help the woman who was assaulted outside the Bloomingdale Branch Library last April. Because John was told he would never walk again in 2006, he has been following the girl’s story during his long recuperation and felt compelled to do something to help the family. The event is April 19 at Conesa Hall at Prince of Peace Catholic Church from 9 a.m. to noon with tickets costing $6. (Penny Fletcher Photo)

When he woke up, he was completely out of pain. But that wasn’t good because suddenly he realized he had no feeling from the waist down. The nerve damage was so severe his bodily functions had to be accomplished with catheters and bags which he learned to operate himself, and he could not move his legs or feet.
“They sent me to Sarasota Memorial Hospital in October and therapists worked really hard using all the techniques they could. At that point, I accepted my paralysis as God’s will for me, for whatever the reason, and said a prayer that the Lord would just help me improve a little bit each day.”
One day he noticed he could move a toe. The doctors said it didn’t mean anything; that it was a reflex.
Then he moved a foot and he knew he had to keep trying even when the hospital staff discharged him, saying there was no more they could do.
Now, it was November.
Besides all the renovations that had been so quickly completed, his wife had ordered a wheelchair and hospital bed. All the arrangements for a life in the wheelchair were ready.
But John wouldn’t stay in the wheelchair.
Every day he moved just a little more. And by the following January (2007) he could stand and take up to six steps using a walker.
“Charlie Silk had taken over my bookkeeping duties for the (Knights) local group and Lou Tovey did my job as treasurer for the Fourth Degree Knights. Charlie was working on guardianship too. I don’t know what I’d have done without those guys.”
While still recovering, John was reading newspaper accounts and viewing television reports of the rape and beating at the Bloomingdale Branch Library that occurred April 24, 2008.
Somewhere in Sarasota, right near where he had recently been, was this girl who had been beaten and raped while innocently dropping off books. First she was rushed to Tampa General Hospital in critical condition but later sent to the Sarasota Rehabilitation Hospital where she stayed several months.
He pictured it clearly.
He read about the changes the family had to make to their home. And they had to do it quickly too, because Medicaid said she wasn’t improving fast enough to stay in the center any longer and was about to stop paying the bill.
John knew other groups were helping the girl’s family and that a fund had been set up at Sun Trust Bank. Still, he felt moved to do something to help her.
Having recently graduated from his walker to a cane, he assumed responsibility for starting a project. His first move was to involve other Knights.
They responded immediately and a pancake breakfast at Prince of Peace between Masses was chosen as their fundraising event.
“It was hard to schedule because we needed the Hall and in the winter the Masses are so large they spill out into the Hall,” John said. But he checked with the priests and found that April 19 they could use Conesa Hall from 9 a.m. to noon. “I knew that the Lord had opened the door for us because this would be the last Sunday before the snowbirds go back North. This is an indication that it is His will that the breakfast be a success,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that’s Divine Mercy Sunday (on the church calendar).”
Tickets are $6 and can be bought at the church, in Conesa Hall, Monday-Thursday from 9-11 a.m.; at the Sun City Center Community Association information kiosk in the atrium those same days and times; and at the Greater Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce, 1651 Sun City Center Plaza during business hours, which are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9-4 and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon.
People who wish to donate directly to the fund may make their checks out to “Bloomingdale Library Assault Account” and mail them at any time, or take them into any area Sun Trust Bank.  
The name of the young Apollo Beach woman who was assaulted has not been publicly released and will not be given to callers.

*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me,, any time and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.

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