Well-known hair stylist recovering from accident

August 29, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

This is the way it used to be for Jeff Wilson:

Wednesday nights at Two Roads Cafe. Martini Madness. Friends all around laughing, drinking and telling stories, Wilson in the middle of it all, a magnet for good times.

On the bar's martini menu is one named after Wilson. The "Jefftini" is an almost sickly sweet concoction of his own creation: two shots Grey Goose vodka; two shots Disaronno amaretto; shaken over ice, poured off neat; garnish with lime and cherry.

"It will curl your hair," the menu says, not so much a reference to the drink's wickedness as it is to Wilson's 15-year career as a hair stylist and his own fabulously curly red hair.


And like any good hairdresser, Wilson is blessed with the gift of gab and making others feel good about themselves.

"He has friends wherever he goes. It doesn't matter if it's the crowd at Two Roads or down on the Fork. He can talk to anyone about anything at any level," says Cathy Lynch, his boss at Changez Design team, where he has cut hair the last two years. "He's just always very fun to be around. He's always up. Lively. Happy. Funny. Energetic. He's just fun to be around."

This is the way it is now for Jeff Wilson:

He is struggling just to sit up under his own power on a bed at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington. One therapist supports him from behind while another is at his feet. Wilson contorts his face in struggle as the therapists move him off center, to the right, to the left, forward, backward; he strains to right himself.

"C'mon, Jeff, c'mon," Cardinal Hill intern Nate Johnson exhorts Wilson to pull his upper body back to an upright position from the slightest forward incline. It is all Wilson can do straighten himself. The other therapist, Linda Clark, tells him, "I'm right here, Jeff. You're not going to fall."

"He's working on his sitting balance," Clarks explains to a visitor. "He's had to work hard just to get to this point."

A few violent seconds on Aug. 8

The difference between the way it used to be for Jeff Wilson and the way it is now is a few violent seconds in the early morning of Aug. 8. He was driving the three miles down White Oak Road from a cookout at his cousin's house. It was just a short trip along a road he'd been traveling all his life. Though it was his habit, he didn't bother to buckle up this night.

Wilson was in sight of his own driveway in Junction City when his life became broken in about the worst way possible.

"I looked down into my console to find my cell phone charger and just veered off the road," Wilson, 44, remembers as he lays back resting in his therapy bed. "I remember being thrown all around the truck and I remember the lick that paralyzed me. I just became numb all over instantly and then I went out."

The next thing Wilson remembers is that he was in the passenger side of his 1996 Chevy Blazer that was burning all around him. Two friends, Michael Paul Belcher and Nicholas Wilburn, were pulling him from the wreckage.

"I asked them to leave me in there," Wilson says, his eyes getting shiny now. "I was ready to die."

"I'm glad they got me out now," he continues. "It was a week before I had any will to live."

They took Wilson first to Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center and then on to University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center trauma unit, where he spent eight days in the intensive care unit not sure if he would live, and pretty sure he didn't want to. His neck was broken in two places, and the prognosis was that, if he pulled through, he would never walk again. Paralyzed from the chest down, Wilson can use his arms but that use stops at his wrist. He might as well not have his hands.

Somewhere in that time at UK Wilson decided that he did want to live on in whatever shattered form his life might take in the future. Much of that change of heart, he says, came from seeing how much his family and the long line of friends who came to visit him wanted him to remain with them.

Forty-eight visited him in one day

Wilson set some sort of unofficial record at UK when 48 people came to see him in one day. His nurses tell him he doesn't have visitors, he has an entourage.

"They asked us if Jeff was the mayor of our town or something, the way people keep coming to see him," says Doris Wilson, Jeff's mother. "I say 'No, he's the monkey of our town."

It's not just close family like his mother, father Charlie Wilson and sisters Vickie Bowling and Brenda Lane, who have hardly left Wilson's side. Not just the Martini Madness gang and other friends who have been tight with him for years.

It's people like Katherine Roller of Danville, whose hair Wilson has been cutting for a year now. Roller was in Lexington on other business and just wanted to stop by and offer what encouragement she could.

"Just look how awful my hair looks," Roller says, raising a little smile on Wilson's face.

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