Grace Evensen couldn’t wipe the grin off her face Thursday at she stood waiting outside Jerry Ginter’s home.
Ginter, her former third-grade student, was finally coming home after more than a year of stays in hospital, nursing home and rehabilitation centers.
Above Ginter’s door, Evensen had taped a “Welcome Home Jerry” sign and attached to a cement dog adjacent to the door was a bouquet of colorful balloons.
“One of his therapists told me that I would just have to accept the fact that he was never going to walk again,” Evensen said Thursday as she waited for Ginter to come home. “She was wrong.”
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Ginter, 55, has cerebral palsy. The Herald-Leader first profiled Ginter in August when he was forced into a nursing home after insurance refused to pay for more physical therapy so he could walk again. A series of illnesses had left him confined to a bed and unable to walk. At the time, Ginter feared he would never get out of a nursing home, would lose his home and his truck, and would never see his two beloved dogs again.
That didn’t happen.
“They don’t know Jerry like I do,”said Evensen, who has kept in touch and watched over Ginter for nearly five decades.
Ginter has always been able to beat the system that is supposed to help people like him, Evensen said.
“Once Jerry decides to do something, he does it.”
A rough start
When Ginter’s mother died when he was 9, he was left in the care of his hard-drinking father.
Social services eventually removed him from his father’s care and placed him in the Methodist Home in Woodford County. Ginter, who was a good student, was removed from public high school and put in a vocational training program in Eastern Kentucky. But he never received a GED or a high school diploma.
He began his own campaign to get that diploma, calling people for help and taking night classes at Fayette County schools. He spent more than $2,512 on tuition, transportation and other expenses, according to a 1986 Herald-Leader article.
He graduated from Woodford County on June 7, 1986. He was 25.
That same year, he bought his home near the University of Kentucky. He worked a series of jobs over the next several decades and at one time was Kentucky’s only pet detective, finding lost pets. Sometimes, he worked more than two jobs to make ends meet. He also volunteered in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program.
In 2006, while visiting his brother in Maine, Ginter fell down some steps and injured his leg. Several pins and screws were placed in his right ankle and foot.
At the time, a doctor said he should be placed on disability. But Ginter resisted.
“I got back up and I tried,” Ginter said in August.
He returned to his job as a janitor at Temple Adath Israel for several weeks. But it was too much. He went on disability in 2007.
An illness, and a series of setbacks
In February 2014, Ginter began to have problems with his legs and went to see an orthopedist. He was put on some new medications. But in early March he woke up and could not move his legs.
He was taken to St. Joseph Hospital, where doctors diagnosed cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection.
He was eventually discharged to Cardinal Hill Hospital, where he spent several weeks. But Ginter was having problems putting weight on his legs, largely due to swelling, and while there, the screws in his foot began to push through his skin. He was eventually taken to UK Hospital, where doctors discovered that those screws were causing the infection, he said. They removed the plates and the screws. Ginter was put on high-dose antibiotics to rid his body of the infection. He was eventually discharged to Tanbark Health Care for therapy.
But in August 2015, Medicare said he wasn’t improving, might not walk again and ceased paying for therapy.
Ginter was then moved to nursing home in Carroll County. He received some physical therapy there and liked his original therapist, but she left soon after Ginter arrived.
One of his therapists told me that I would just have to accept the fact that he was never going to walk again. She was wrong.
Grace Evensen, Jerry Ginter’s third-grade teacher and longtime friend
Worse, Ginter contracted a series of illnesses in the nursing home.
His brother David Ginter came down from Maine to pick up his younger brother and take him to the doctor in October. He found Jerry in very bad shape. David Ginter brought his brother back to Lexington and took him to UK. Ginter was dehydrated and had a serious stomach virus and other infections.
Glenn Burke, Jerry Ginter’s long-time neighbor and friend, remembers visiting Ginter in Carroll County. Burke would bring Ginter’s two dogs to the nursing home to visit.
“I thought we were going to lose him,” Burke said.
At UK, Ginter not only got better but was also placed under the care of Dr. Robert Lightfoot, a rheumatologist and internist, who figured out Ginter had been on the wrong dosage of medications for his gout. Once Ginter got on the right medications and his gout was under control, he was moved to Northpoint Healthcare on Trent Boulevard.
He got consistent therapy. But more importantly, Ginter said he had a therapist who listened to him.
I want to walk, and I want to drive again.
Ginter can be difficult to understand because of the cerebral palsy. His niece, Theresa Warren, said in August that many people assume because Ginter has a physical disability that he has a mental disability. He doesn’t. And Warren, who has helped advocate for Ginter during the past year, said she feels it’s his disability that has made getting the correct diagnosis and treatment for her uncle so difficult.
People see his disabilities first and underestimate his abilities and his determination, she said.
“They told me at Northpoint, they wish all of their patients were as determined as Jerry,” Warren said.
But that determination sometimes got Ginter in trouble.
When Ginter didn’t feel he was getting enough therapy, he would sneak into the physical therapy room at Northpoint and practice standing up.
He also wasn’t suppose to transfer from his wheelchair to his bed by himself.
“One day, one of the aides said to wait and she would come back and help me get up from my chair to the bed,” Ginter said. “She went to the nurse’s station and by the time she got back I was already in my bed. She got mad and said I couldn’t do that. I just looked at her and said, ‘Well, do you want me to get back in my wheelchair?’”
Evensen said what she remembers most about Ginter when he was in her third-grade class was how funny he was. There were always students laughing around him.
“He has a marvelous sense of humor,” Evensen said. “It was a gift his mother gave him.”
Home, but more work ahead
On Thursday afternoon, when Warren finally drove up with Ginter shortly before 5 p.m., Evensen and Burke clapped and cheered.
When David Ginter brought Jerry’s wheelchair to the passenger side door of Warren’s four-door sedan, everyone stopped and watched as Jerry Ginter used the passenger door to hoist himself up and into the chair.
He can now walk using a walker, but getting himself up from a seated position still takes work.
Home health care was expected to do an assessment on Friday, and he is suppose to receive more physical therapy in coming months. David Ginter will be staying with him for two weeks. In October, David cleaned Jerry Ginter’s home and re-did his bathroom to be wheelchair-friendly.
He’ll be making further modifications to his brother’s home as they figure out what’s needed.
On Thursday, Jerry Ginter wheeled himself from room to room as he looked over the changes his brother had made. But the inspection was interrupted several times by his Chihuahua who jumped on his master’s lap and bathed his face in kisses. Thanks to Burke and his partner Jan Hamilton, Ginter has been able to see his pets frequently over the past year.
But it was nice to finally be home so he could take care of them himself, he said Thursday.
He’s home, but there’s more work to do.
“I want to walk, and I want to drive again,” Jerry Ginter said.
To help: Friends of Jerry Ginter have set up an account to help pay some of Ginter’s medical bills. Donations can be made to the Jerry Ginter Donation Account at any Chase Bank location.