Jim Hay of Los Alamos has lived a remarkable life. A Vietnam War veteran, Hay served as a telecommunication/cryptographic operator. During the fall of Saigon, he helped airlift 2,700 people out of the city.
Jim Hay remembers Viet Nam. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
In 1975, Hay was severely injured when a heavy battery fell on his back, disintegrating two discs. He was brought to a hospital in Honolulu for eight months before being hospitalized for two years in Colorado, one of which was spent in a body cast.
Hay said his doctors told him they could put him back together but the results would only last 15-17 years. Discharged in 1977, Hay said, “I pursued my dream” and worked as a federal law enforcement officer for the Treasury Department. However, in 1990, he wasn’t able to use his right leg and resigned. In 1991, he couldn’t use his left leg and became confined to a wheel chair.
Today, however, with help from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albuquerque, the support of the American Legion Post 90 and Hay’s own drive and initiative, he is once again walking. In fact, he is the first person in New Mexico to use C-braces by Ottobock, computer-controlled braces that allow the user to have full mobility.
Being able to stand and walk again, Hay said, “It’s a miracle; it really is.”
Four months ago, Hay discovered C-braces while doing a search on the Internet for an all-terrain wheelchair. “It was just by luck I ran across these,” he said.
Seeing these braces, Hay said he thought, “Wow; I can do that.” Hay had already overcome many obstacles while being confined to a wheelchair. He is a two-time world champion in Tae Kwon Do for wheelchair-bound competitors; Hay also is a scuba diver. “I’ve been very active,” he said. As a result, he felt he would qualify for the braces. “I can rebuild,” he said. “I can adjust and modify.”
Still, “it’s been a rough road,” he said. Cast molds had to be made of his legs and Hay put in many hours each week learning how to walk using the braces. Hay credits the VA for providing him these braces. He also thanks the local American Legion Post, where he serves as a chaplain. Additionally, Hay is a former post and district commander. “They have inspired me so much and given me the hope that I can accomplish this.” Plus, he recognizes Richard Beaudoin and his wife, Dina Quintana, who gave him a job at their business, Mountain Air Cleaners in Los Alamos. “They’re good people,” he said.
Hay has only had the braces for a week; he received them June 1. Yet, he has already experienced their impact. “It gives you so much quality of life,” he said. Hay said he would like his story to be a source of inspiration for others. The idea that what wasn’t possible today will be possible tomorrow. “I’m a big believer in that,” he said.
There are about 500 paralyzed veterans in the state and Hay wants them to receive whatever is going to give them that quality of life. He is active in helping those with disabilities and for the past six years, has served as a governor-appointed commissioner of the state’s Commission on Disability.
To achieve quality of life, Hay urges individuals to “never give up.”
Hay can attest that a “can-do attitude” does reap results. After years of being in a wheelchair, he said, “Today, I am standing tall.”
Jim Hay’s American Legion support team, from left, James Hanika, Jim Hay, Reine Williams, Daniel Cary, Randi Moore, Melanie Chapman and Ed McDaris and Britney Stone (kneeling). Photo by Leland Lehman/ladailypost.com