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Jennifer Longdon Wears Her Heart on Her Facebook Page

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She's also circumspect about the shooting, now a cold case in the hands of the Phoenix Police Department.

"You just don't know. There are still theories," she says, her voice trailing off.

At first, it kept her up at night.

"I cannot accept that anyone can have that much malice," she says, closing the case with her tone. "For my own sanity, I had to create resolution.

"It was random."

With the case faded from the headlines, Longdon became Rueckert's caretaker — spoon-feeding him, shaving his chin. Later, they moved into a ratty apartment, then the house she's in now. The struggle to care for Rueckert got tougher as her own health declined. She remains medically fragile. In the first three years after the accident, she was hospitalized 10 times.

She was seeing her son less, too. She felt she didn't have any choice.

"What was I going to do? I couldn't abandon David . . . David had saved my life that night."

He continued to be loving — very loving, she says, constantly kissing her hand and telling anyone who would listen how wonderful she was. People thought it was romantic.

"It wasn't romantic. It was frontal-lobe damage," she says, motioning to her wheelchair. "I would never trade this for a brain injury."

In 2009, after Longdon broke her leg and things got way worse, Rueckert moved out. She hasn't seen him in two years, and just a couple of months ago, she took off a ring he gave her when they were both in the hospital.

She filed for bankruptcy, survived a lot of suicidal thoughts and one serious attempt. She burned through a lot of friendships — she wondered how any of her friends could stand her, figuring they'd drink heavily before picking up the phone.

"Woo! I'm going to call Jennifer now. Or I can get a pelvic," she jokes.

"You know, amazingly, you don't run out of tears."

The suicide attempt — a very close call involving a lot of vodka and pills — was a turning point.

"I lost my fear. I became very, very, very aware of my mortality," she says. "There's just now. And I can't put stuff off."

Keeping busy has become a survival tactic in a very real way.

A common misunderstanding about spinal-cord injuries is that you lose all feeling below the injured area. Not so, Longdon says. She feels pain almost constantly — intense, burning pain called neuropathy. Drugs don't work; neither does alcohol. The only thing that works, she says, is to keep really, really busy.

She's got that one down.


Her day begins as it does for most of us — with coffee and Facebook. But first, Jennifer Longdon has to get out of bed.

She rises at 5 — always has.

"Honestly, as soon as I snap my eyes open, I try to figure out how I am," she says.

If you were to list the worst things about her spinal-cord injury, Longdon says, not being able to walk wouldn't even make her top 10. Her morning routine explains that pretty well.

She checks to be sure her legs didn't spasm in the night (which could mean broken bones she can't feel) and, in the winter, throws on a hat and scarf because her body doesn't regulate temperature well anymore.

She throws the covers off completely, careful not to trap herself, and pushes aside the pillows she's arranged around her body. Then, she must negotiate with her dog, Pearl, who has a habit of trapping her in bed — sometimes because she can sense better than Longdon when something's not right with her master's health.

She grabs the sheets, pulls hard into a sitting position. She lifts her butt, pulls it over, then her legs one at a time. She throws the covers back over the warm spot so Pearl isn't tempted (the dog is not allowed underneath) and picks up a mirror to check for pressure wounds on her skin.

She scoots into her wheelchair and heads to the bathroom.

"I go to the toilet. I do what everyone else does — except, for me, it involves rubber gloves and lubricant."

She works her way into her shower chair, then back to bed to dry off and put on lotion. She stretches — really important. Then she gets dressed, putting her legs straight in front of her and rolling to get her pants on.

"On a good day, I can do it in three rolls," she says. A bad day it takes five or six. Sitting up to snap on a bra is an extra challenge.

"I'm a bowling ball on top of a wet noodle," she says ruefully. In the early days, she had to nap a lot.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.