Enabled Servant: David Pickard
By Ernest Herndon and John W. Kennedy
Mar. 10, 2013
David Pickard has been active in his church for two decades, serving as an elder, deacon and website manager.
Yet the 55-year-old resident of McComb, Miss., has been a quadriplegic since a plunge into the Bogue Chitto River nearly 40 years ago.
Though paralyzed, he stays active and has accomplished much: serving as a deacon, building and maintaining websites, repairing computers, and communicating with people around the world via ham radio.
“I can’t let it get me down,” he says of paralysis. “It’s not the end of my life. I could not have made it all these years being a quadriplegic without my faith in Jesus Christ.”
At age 16, Pickard was swimming with a couple of friends in the Bogue Chitto in August 1973. A buddy swung out on a rope, swung partly back and dove. No problem.
Pickard did the same thing. But the water was shallow and his head struck the bottom.
“It stunned me,” Pickard recalls. “I didn’t know what happened. It paralyzed me instantly. I couldn’t get back to the surface.”
Determined not to inhale water, he clamped his jaws shut and held his breath until he passed out. When he surfaced facedown, his friends thought he was playing — until one rolled him over and saw he had turned blue.
Friends pulled him out and attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but couldn’t get his mouth open. Pickard eventually came to and told his buddies to call an ambulance.
Pickard was taken to Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center, where doctors determined he had a fracture to the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae in the neck. He was transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he spent five weeks.
Doctors performed a temporary tracheotomy to help him breathe, but scar tissue formed in his trachea above the incision and physicians couldn’t repair it.
Pickard still has the trachea implant, but did recover his ability to speak, using a microphone to amplify his whispery voice.
“It’s very unusual he can talk the way he does,” says his 83-year-old mother, Lanelle, who operates a flower shop in McComb. “We thank the good Lord for that.”
Meanwhile, Pickard nearly died during his recovery.
“Breaking your neck’s bad enough, but then I developed pneumonia,” Pickard remembers. “I had high fever.”
He survived that and, in January 1974, went to a rehabilitation center for six months in Memphis, Tenn. He missed his senior year in high school because of the tragedy.
“Therapy hurts, but you’ve got to do it,” Pickard says. “Physical therapy is what brought me back. When I first had my accident, I was basically completely helpless. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t feed myself. I couldn’t sit in a chair for more than an hour at a time.”
Physical therapy enabled him to sit up all day and perform such tasks as feeding himself.
Though a quadriplegic — paralyzed in all four limbs — Pickard can raise and lower his arms. Wrist braces help him perform such tasks as holding an upside-down pencil to tap out words on a computer and operating a modified ham radio handset.
His family members learned a lot as well.
“There’s so much to learn; I had never heard of a Hoyer lift,” Lanelle Pickard says, referring to a hydraulic patient lift.
Pickard has attended Assemblies of God churches his entire life. He became a Christian at age 14, but says he had become spiritually cold by the time of the accident.
“I repented and returned to God, and it has been a growing process ever since,” Pickard says.
Contributions from friends, church members and even strangers enabled Pickard to buy a good motorized wheelchair and offset other expenses as well. The family had medical insurance, and the bills in the mid-1970s were nothing like they are today.
Though the accident occurred on private property, the Pickards never sued the landowner.
“I don’t think it ever crossed our minds,” says Pickard. “It wasn’t that guy’s fault. It was just an accident.”
Pickard persevered in an effort to return to a full life, despite not having use of his hands. He passed his General Educational Development tests in 1974, became a citizens band radio operator in 1976, and obtained his ham radio license in 1978. He obtained a computer in the early 1980s and operated a computer repair shop for five years.
In 1988, he was appointed as an elder at Faith Assembly of God and elected deacon in 2006. As the webmaster at Faith Assembly, he sends out daily devotionals, prayer requests and church announcements. Overall he has created eight websites and maintains seven. He received two certificates from H&R Block for passing its tax course. He also sends out statements for his mother’s flower shop.
Keeping busy and serving the Lord have been therapeutic for Pickard. Through it all, Pickard says he has managed to avoid serious depression.
“I can’t just sit around and feel sorry for myself,” Pickard says. “That does no good. There’s not a lot that I can do, but I try to stay busy and do what I can.”
In 1998, Pickard had to relinquish his elder duties at Faith Assembly because he, as people who are in wheelchairs commonly do, developed a painful, large sore on his backside. The condition kept him virtually bedridden for seven years.
“I’ve had my ups and downs, but I don’t think I ever reached the point of wanting to give up,” Pickard says. “This is just something that happened to me that I’ve had to learn to deal with.”
Reconstructive surgery in 2005 created a flap that alleviated Pickard’s near-total immobility and allowed him to get back in his wheelchair. The following year, church members elected him to the deacon board, where he still serves.
Eddie Hilburn Jr., who has been pastor at Faith Assembly for four years, says Pickard’s presence encourages others who are going through difficult times.
“I’m impressed by his willingness to serve as a deacon and his willingness just to be involved,” Hilburn says. “Even when I know he doesn’t feel good, he is at church. It’s inspirational to see him commit himself to God’s house.”
Pickard nearly has died — several times — due to bouts of pneumonia.
“I would have been dead and in the grave a long time ago if it hadn’t been for the good Lord,” Pickard says. “I’ve been at death’s door five times. Every time God has snatched me back. He’s not through with me yet on this earth.”
Even though life can be a struggle, Pickard says he isn’t consumed by his limitations.
“I don’t want to give up and quit,” Pickard says. “I love God and I know God loves me. I want God to use me.”
ERNEST HERNDON is religion editor of the McComb (Miss.) Enterprise-Journal.
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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