SANTALUZ — Before Nov. 5, 2003, Paul Jacobson was a busy guy. An Internet marketer and Web site manager for Gateway computers in Poway, he spent his free time in four softball leagues playing 150 games a year. He played tennis and basketball, hiked and taught Internet marketing at the University of California San Diego for four years.
On that fall day, Jacobson was on his way to a dentist appointment when a lost motorist ran a stop sign and rammed the passenger side of his Acura. His car crossed opposing traffic lanes and flipped over into a ditch. He was not wearing a seatbelt.
With a severed spinal cord between two vertebrae, Jacobson was paralyzed from mid-chest down. He couldn’t use his legs, arm movement was difficult, and both his hands were partially paralyzed. The avid sportsman was a quadriplegic.
Nowadays the Connecticut native spends one day a week providing support and advice for newly injured spinal cord patients and their families at Sharp Memorial Hospital, where he spent three months as a rehabilitation inpatient. He serves on several boards at the
Del Mar-based HeadNorth Foundation, which provides support, guidance and financial assistance to those affected by spinal cord injuries.
On behalf of the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation, he visits schools to explain to teenagers the consequences of drinking and driving, speeding and not wearing a seatbelt. He is a Big Brother and will stop what he’s doing if someone asks for help, be it a patient he previously mentored or a friend attempting to launch a wheelchair lacrosse league.
He is the person responsible for those blinking stop signs near Costco in Poway. A wheelchair doesn’t seem to slow Jacobson down much.
“I don’t like sitting around,” he said. “No pun intended.”
For his numerous and varied volunteer efforts, Jacobson was recently awarded Sharp Memorial’s Eagle Spirit Award of Achievement, an honor he humbly acknowledges. “I guess they had a slow year,” he said.
He doesn’t remember anything about the accident, including the hospital transport, which was his first ride in a helicopter. “When I came to and they told me about the life flight I said, ‘What a horrible day this has been. I missed the whole experience.’”
Jacobson’s ability to pepper every story with a witty one-liner makes it apparent that while the accident may have damaged his body, it left his positive attitude and infectious good humor intact.
“I’m a happy guy,” Jacobson said. “That’s all I know.”
He harbors no ill will toward the woman who hit him. In fact, he wanted to meet her to say he wasn’t angry and didn’t blame her for his injuries. “It was an accident.” She couldn’t do it, he said.
Although Jacobson remains busy, there are obviously activities he misses, most notably, he said, is “the spontaneity of life.”
“I can’t just get up and go,” he said. He had to retrain his body to do the simplest tasks, such as pushing buttons on a phone or computer. Previously right handed, he developed more strength on his left side and is now a southpaw. In addition to discovering how well he could adapt to so many physical changes, he learned a lot about himself emotionally.
“If someone told me this was how it was going to be I never would have imagined handling it,” he said.
“I know how fortunate I am. I’ve been afforded an opportunity to work with different people and do different things.”
He also discovered his philanthropic side. He was never one to volunteer. “I didn’t have time,” he said. “But I also didn’t understand that world — the thought of being with sick people. I’m more compassionate now.”
During his four months in the hospital, Jacobson was inundated with visitors, including others who had suffered similar injuries. “A lot of people in chairs came to me and they were incredibly helpful,” he said.
Those were the visitors who encouraged him the most, telling him he would eventually regain skills he thought were gone forever. They were also the people who inspired him to return to Sharp to provide support for the newly injured by sharing his experiences.
He has some fairly intriguing stories to tell as well.
At the time of his accident, he lived in a three-story condominium in University Town Center that wasn’t very conducive to wheelchair living, so he began house hunting. While viewing a home in Santaluz, he peered inside a large closet and noticed a hand-drawn map of his accident scene pinned to the wall. He looked a little closer and saw his name was on paper. It turned out to be the home of the accident reconstructionist hired for his case. Jacobson bought the house.
Although it had been a while, he eventually went to visit his dentist. The receptionist, who was new to the office since his accident, pulled his patient information and informed him he owed $50 for a missed appointment. True to his nature, Jacobson could only laugh and ask the girl to get the doctor.