A golden anniversary is a milestone in itself. But for Sammy Ward, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a Craig graduate, it is one that signifies years of challenges, dedication, and perseverance.
Sammy first came to Craig Hospital as a patient on Sept. 3, 1967, and has been coming back to Craig for re-evaluations each year for half a century.
Sammy was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident at work in Chromo, Colorado. In the spring of 1967 he took a job with a construction company working on a project to divert water from southern Colorado to Texas. Sammy was working in an underground tunnel when a gas pocket erupted and blew a boulder on top of him. The other men on the crew were able to lift the boulder enough to pull Sammy free. He was transported out of the tunnel using a 2’x12’ board as a stretcher on top of the diesel motor used to pull the muck cars out of the tunnel.
Sammy was initially transported to Mercy Medical Center in Durango, where he underwent surgery to fuse his broken back. After a month, Sammy was airlifted to Craig (which was then located in Lakewood). Thus, began his 50-year relationship with the Craig family.
Sammy remembers everyone who initially took care of him when he came to Craig for spinal cord injury rehabilitation – from his doctor and nurses to his physical and occupational therapists. He also has 50 years of stories to share about the hospital. Some of his stories are quite colorful – including a time when he arrived back at the hospital after a night out on horseback!
In 1970, Craig moved to its current location in Englewood, and he recalls a short time later being introduced by his doctor (the same one who read him the riot act) to a new patient named Al who was having a hard time dealing with the fact that he would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. “I went into Al’s room as a stranger, but came out with a friend for life,” said Sammy.
Sammy has many lifelong friends from his time at Craig including current and former hospital staff and other patients and their families.
“The professionals at Craig cared not only for me, but took care of my family. It meant so much to my wife, Cecilia, and me,” said Sammy. Over the past 50 years, Sammy has not missed a single yearly re-evaluation at Craig. “Craig is the best rehabilitation hospital in the world for people with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries,” he said. “I thank everyone who has cared for me throughout these past 50 years.”
Sammy and Cecilia, now married for 56 years, live in Farmington, New Mexico. They will forever be grateful for his time at Craig and the many life lessons he learned that changed his attitude and outlook towards his future in a wheelchair.