Mac-Hi fixture battles to overcome recent stroke

A Mac-Hi fixture struggles to overcome a recent stroke and retake his place in the press box.

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Jack Shelton reaches out to strengthen his balance and coordination meeting the destination Melody Beck has set with her palm stretched toward him during rehabilitation therapy at Regency at the Park on Oct. 5, 2011. Shelton, a long-time PA announcer for Mac-Hi, is going through rehab as part of his recovery from a stroke.

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Jack Shelton holds his posture strong, focusing straight ahead as he begins a rehabilitation therapy session at Regency at the Park on Oct. 5, 2011.

COLLEGE PLACE - George "Jack" Shelton is facing an uphill battle.

Shelton, 68, has announced at a multitude of different sporting events in the Milton-Freewater area, ranging from youth softball to high school basketball and football. He has been called the "Voice of the Pioneers," even singing the national anthem before games.

But this fall, his voice has been missing.

On Aug. 6th, Shelton suffered a stroke which caused him to lose control of the left side of his body and impaired his speech, among other things. To complicate his recovery further, Shelton is a double amputee. He lost both of his legs due to a lingering staph infection.

Friday nights at Mac-Hi's Shockman Field have not been the same since.

"We've only had about two-to-three home games, and we've had different guys in there each time," Shelton's friend Bob Christian said. "It's just really different. I've been sitting next to him up there (in the press box) for years. It's like missing my left arm."

But while community members have been missing him at football games, Shelton has been busy working to rehabilitate himself.

When he first arrived at Regency at the Park Rehabilitation Center in August, he could hardly move; to do something even as simple as adjust his leg when it was uncomfortable, or point to a picture of his grandson, was a struggle.

"It is a challenge. It's a real challenge when it's something that you do daily," Shelton said. "Every time you sit down in a chair, every time you get in and out of bed, every time you are carrying on a conversation with somebody - how many times a day do you lift up your leg to get it in a position to stand up?

"How much did you trust that chair when you sat down in it?" he asked. "I trust the chair because I've sat down in it a lot of times, but it's hard to trust my left leg since I had the stroke. It (the leg) has not been like it has at any other time in my life."

Since then, he has slowly, but surely, struggled to get his capabilities back.

He demonstrated by lifting his arm, grimacing as he willed his elbow up towards his shoulder.

"A week ago, I wouldn't have been able to do that," Shelton said. "They (the staff) don't give up on you if you aren't able to do it.

"‘Come on, Jack, we know you can do it,'" he said the staff says. "‘Come on, Jack, we know your brain is telling you that you can do it,' but that still doesn't change the fact that my mind is saying I can't do it. The other part of my mind is saying, ‘Come on, Jack, don't be a quitter. Don't be disappointed if you can't point to the picture of Joshua (his grandson).'"

It is difficult to accept struggling with simple things like pointing at a picture, Shelton said.

"When I can't lift my arm like this and point to my grandson, that bothers me a whole lot," he said. "And yeah, I will say, it is depressing, for lack of a better word. I don't care for the word ‘depression.' I never have."

Those who know Shelton have said that one of his strengths is his optimism.

Christian, who has been friends with Shelton since they met while Christian was in college (30 to 35 years ago, according to Christian), said that Shelton's attitude helped him through past health problems.

"(It just) shows his attitude towards life," Christian said. "He never gives up. Even when we thought he wasn't going to survive, he didn't give up.

"Even if he (Shelton) couldn't walk (to go hunting), he would get on the four-wheeler and still be there," Christian said.

Christian said Shelton helped counsel other amputees after the loss of his legs.

"A lot of people couldn't go through what he's been through and still have that kind of attitude," Christian said. "They've had him talk to other people who lost their legs and he told them, ‘Life's not over, it's what you make out of it.'

"That's the way Jack is."

Shelton's health problems first started after he was electrocuted while managing Camp Arra Wanna, a summer camp in Mount Hood, Ore.

He was checking on a malfunctioning water pump when he brushed against an electrified pipe, Shelton said. Four hundred and forty volts of electricity sent him flying out of the pump house.

The shock damaged his heart, and during heart surgery in Spokane he contracted a staph infection.

He spent 102 days in isolation, waiting for the surgery to heal, before he finally convinced his doctors to let him move around to help his blood flow and help heal the wound. In total, Shelton spent 18 months at the hospital before he was able to return home.

After the shock and ensuing surgery, Jack and his wife, Judy, moved back to Milton-Freewater.

For years, the infection went into remission. But in 1989, while hunting with Christian, Shelton developed an unusually large blister on his heel. The infection had returned, and piece by piece doctors removed his feet. Then, in 1998, his legs, to try and contain the bacteria.

Steve Kimball, owner of Prosthetic & Orthotic Services in Walla Walla, has helped Shelton with his prosthetics since then.

"A lot of people have a tendency to limit themselves on how much they're going to walk," Kimball said. "Jack is an individual who knows how much he wants to walk and he keeps going.

"Jack has never limited his activities because of his prosthetics," he said. "He (Shelton) is pretty determined on what he needs to do on a daily basis and he does it."

Although losing his legs made doing what he loved, announcing and coaching football, basketball and other sports, difficult, Shelton did not let it slow him down.

He doesn't believe it will slow him down this time, either.

"As soon as they can get me negotiating on my legs and that sort of thing (I want to be announcing again)," Shelton said. "Even though there's stairs to climb, I've been able to do that. When I lost my legs I was out there climbing the stairs into the announcing booth long before anybody thought I would be ready."

His therapist at Regency at the Park, Carol Wong, said that although he had made many gains since entering rehab, it was hard to predict whether Shelton could make a full recovery.

"He's making gains, but I don't know how far he's going to go," she said. "He still has a lot of things to work on, and every week he's making gains," Wong said. "That's the important part - and that he's willing."

Trying to recover from the stroke without his legs has only been part of the difficulty for Shelton, Wong said.

"It's just that he's got so many things working against him," she said. "He's got bilateral amputation and the other part of it is he's got neglect on the left side ... also part of it is his mid-line orientation is off."

In layperson's terms, he is missing both legs, the muscles on the left side of his body have atrophied and he has difficulty balancing.

But still, Wong and Shelton remain optimistic.

"He's got good family support," she said. "I think the staff here is so friendly that he feels at home and that might have helped him."

Of Wong and the staff at Regency, Shelton couldn't have been more thankful.

"The recovery - it couldn't be quick enough for me, but yet the therapists are doing just an excellent job," Shelton said. "They have a good way of dealing with people - especially me. They are not afraid to repeat themselves - if you don't do it right or the way they told you, they'll repeat it and tell me again."

Shelton hopes to be back in time for basketball and wrestling seasons, although if he were able, he would be back at Shockman Field when the Pioneer football team hosts Medical Lake tonight.

"I love to go to the games," Shelton said. "I love to watch 'em play. I love to see kids excel. If they screw up, they have to be told that they didn't do something the right way. Nobody else can accept the responsibility but themselves.

"I just love to do it. Like I've said, I don't do it for me," he said. "There is a perspective of gratitude in my heart and my mind because I love kids and I love the way kids respond to who we are. If I was a mean, nasty ogre, they would respond the same way to me as they respond to me now, so I feel a little bit of pride not being an ogre."

His wife, Judy, has been almost constantly at his side.

She put the ordeal in perspective.

"There's so many things that aren't nearly as important as health, and you really don't realize that until it's not there," she said. "I've just kind of let things go at home. It's not important."

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