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June 15, 2016

Jim Kluge: Pursuit to Happiness

In 1963, 15-year-old Jim Kluge had a strong appetite for the outdoors. He and his brother loved to hunt for petrified wood in a field near their parents’ home in Littleton, CO. One summer’s day the Kluge brothers were digging in a creek embankment, an unexpected rainstorm closed in on them. With limited options the pair decided to take refuge in the “cupboard sized cavities” they were carving in the cliff.

“Without a grain of warning the earth above us collapsed,” says Jim. The impact crushed two of Jim’s vertebrae and severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Jim was stabilized at Swedish Hospital and then taken to Craig Hospital. In 1963, Craig was located in Lakewood, CO. Through different treatments, Jim worked from sunrise to sunset to maximize his recovery and independence. He remembers working with his physical therapist Anita Lystad.

(Brochure from the 1960's on "Specialized Treatment" featuring Jim Kluge)

“Anita was behind me all the way—literally, as she hung on to the back of my belt in case in case I toppled over my crutches,” says Jim as he describes a routine where he was taught to walk with steel leg braces and crutches. His tutor, Irene Armistead, was also influential in keeping Jim up-to-date with his studies, which allowed him to return to high school in the middle of his freshman year. When Jim wasn’t working he was with his roommate Jerry zipping through their halls during one of their many wheelchair races and leaving their “marks” throughout the halls of Craig.

(Jim Kluge holding cover of 1960's brochure)

The person at Craig that has had the most influence on Jim’s life he would not meet until several years after his first admission. As Jim says, “the most life-changing and happy memory was the day I met a certain lovely girl at Craig. I was in for reconstructive surgery, she was working in the dietary department in the evenings after school.” Jim and his wife just celebrated their 44th anniversary this past October.

Jim currently lives with his wife in in Port Orchard, Washington—a 40-minute ferryboat ride from Seattle across Puget Sound. He has been retired for nine years and still maintains the same love for nature. Jim loves activities that get him outside, including gardening and outdoor photography. He also enjoys watching over his grandkids and travelling.