Russ Youngstrom grew up in the Puget Sound area. He enjoyed pheasant and chukar hunting, fishing, and riding his motorcycle. He describes himself as a "risk taker."
"I was always the first one to see how far up I could climb a tree, try the new neighborhood bicycle jump, or dive off a cliff into a river."
As a young adult, he worked in maintenance at the Space Needle, where he met Laurel, a hostess at the restaurant. They shared a love of adventure and the outdoors, and enjoyed fishing, hiking, and riding Russ' motorcycle. In 1991, they were married in a hot air balloon, several months after their first date. Russ took a job with a painting company, and Laurel continued working in the restaurant business, as well as her job in geriatric recreation.
In 1993, they had a son, Spencer. Just two years later, in 1995, Laurel was working in a nursing home when she got "the phone call." All that the caller could tell her was that Russ had been involved in a "serious accident," and that she needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible. Russ had fallen off of a scaffolding and severed his spinal cord, leaving him a complete, permanent paraplegic.
Three months later, he was able to come home, although he remained an outpatient for another year. Laurel promptly learned all she never wanted to know about nursing. Their lives changed drastically. Everything had to be modified to accommodate their new lifestyle. Through the years, they have experienced the numerous complications that often come with paraplegia - blood clots, calcifications, leg spasms, bladder infections, pressure ulcers, bowel problems, and over twenty-two surgeries.
Spencer endured teasing from the neighborhood kids because his dad was different. Russ was not able to do many of the father/son activities that are enjoyed by other families. As Spencer got older, he asked if he could be a big brother. Sadly, this was not a possibility anymore. Russ was also unable to fully participate in his son's sports endeavors. Lacking the height, leverage, balance and mobility, he was limited in the ways he could help with football, basketball, baseball, and cross country. Russ continues to struggle in a society designed for those of us who are ambulatory, and never has been declared medically stable enough to return to a normal work environment.
Hiking, boating, fishing, hunting, and riding their motorcycle have all had to be modified. What does the future hold for the Youngstroms? As Russ ages, several more surgeries are just around the corner. Eventually, his shoulders, elbows and wrists will not tolerate additional surgeries, and he will have to give up his manual wheelchair. When the Youngstroms have grandchildren, he will experience the same inability to participate with them in their activities as he did with Spencer. Russ has a shorter life expectancy than the rest of us, and his future is uncertain, so Laurel will need to retire early, so that they may spend as much time together as possible, cherishing every moment they are given.
Russ and Laurel both have dedicated their lives to sharing their tragic experience with those whom they feel could benefit the most from hearing their story.