PITTSBURG, Kan. —
If asked to roll up his pants to the knee and show his titanium legs, Chuck Harper will gladly oblige.
But he was a little embarrassed Thursday to be getting so much media attention — first from a television station, then a newspaper, then a radio station — on the eve of his graduation from Pittsburg State University.
“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” the 45-year-old Fort Scott man said of a double amputation that was performed before his last year of college. “This isn’t about me.”
What it is about, Harper said, is determination, faith and attitude.
“I could have just rolled over and said ‘I quit,’ and that’s what would have happened,” he said. “Just because of something that is dealt to you doesn’t mean you have to give up and quit. I’ve got a lot of things left I want to accomplish.”
One of those things is to walk on those titanium legs across the stage Friday night to pick up his diploma. It will be a 56-foot journey that he said was 25 years in the making.
Harper graduated from high school and then community college in Fort Scott. When he began working on a bachelor’s degree in business at PSU in 1987, he was married and had children, but he hadn’t yet found his passion when it came to a career.
“I hadn’t found what I wanted to do,” he said.
He quit school and devoted himself to his family and full-time employment — first in the restaurant business, then customer service and sales at a printing company, and finally in insurance.
He and his wife, Connie, raised four daughters and began serving as foster parents. They found it rewarding, and after many hours of training and approval, they currently count two adopted children, two foster children and three children for whom they are the custodial parents among their household.
Harper’s first health scare would surface in 2009, when pains in his arm and fingers — which eventually turned purple — landed him for a week of testing at what now is Mercy Hospital in Joplin, Mo. He was diagnosed with Raynaud’s, a disease in which smaller arteries that supply blood to the skin narrow, limiting blood circulation and causing discoloration of the fingers and toes.
Harper eventually rebounded, but life changed again drastically for him and his family in June 2010 when he was laid off.
He learned that a federal grant was available to pay for two years of college education, but he was unsure which discipline to pursue. When advisers at KansasWorks learned that he was a foster parent, they encouraged him to try social work.
He began his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in PSU’s social work program in January 2011.
“I had always wanted to go back to school,” he said. “It seemed like another chance.”
But as the semester progressed, Harper began experiencing pain in his legs. For the avid bowler who competed nationally, his condition reached a zenith in April 2011 at a tournament in Reno, Nev.
“By the time I got there, it was so excruciating I couldn’t participate,” he said.
He returned home — barely able to make it from the car to the house — and doctors upped his pain medication and gave him crutches. His wife began driving him back and forth to class each day in Pittsburg.
On the night of Harper’s last final in May 2011, his wife arrived at Russ Hall to pick him up, only to find him sitting on the steps in tears because of the pain.
“It was unbearable,” Harper recalled. “Just too much.”
His wife rushed him to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott, and the next morning a helicopter flew him to the University of Kansas Medical Center.
“My left leg and foot were purple, and I had lost all feeling,” Harper said. “I couldn’t bear weight. It was painful just to touch.”
He underwent a series of operations, first in an attempt to save the limbs, but the blood clotted too quickly. Then doctors told him they feared the same thing would happen to his right leg in the months that would follow, and they advised amputation of it too.
He was in the hospital for 45 days, then transferred to Fort Scott for four days of rehabilitation. Although he acknowledges there occasionally were days during which he felt sorry for himself, he said he made a decision to not just walk and bowl again, but to finish what he had started: his college degree.
It was a daunting challenge. He had no job, no insurance, and medical bills totaling $500,000. He began tackling the list one item at a time. Hospital social workers helped him apply for Medicaid to cover the medical bills. His wife offered him encouragement and, sometimes, a “kick in the pants.” A friend who had lost a leg in an accident gave him moral support.
One of his instructors, Kristen Humphrey in the Department of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences, said Harper’s positive attitude throughout his ordeal was inspirational.
“He has been such an inspiration and role model to his fellow social work students,” Humphrey said. “His grades and attendance have been excellent. He has a positive attitude and never complains.”
When Harper returned to school last August, he was in a wheelchair, but he told his classmates and instructors that he would be walking by the end of the semester. And he was.
“After my wounds healed, I used a walker, and then eventually a cane, and then in finals week last December I made it a goal to walk into class without any aids,” he said. “I felt pretty proud.”
He also bowled on his new legs for the first time, although he was discouraged at going from a 200-plus average to a 120. He insisted on learning to drive with his new legs using a five-speed clutch instead of hand controls.
And he finished up his college education with a 3.49 grade-point average overall, with a 4.0 in his social work discipline. Harper already has a job with TFI Family Services, a nonprofit agency that provides foster care and adoption services throughout Kansas. He completed a practicum there last week, and after licensure he will become a case manager.
“I also am offering my support to others who might go through an amputation,” he said. “I want them to know the challenges that lie ahead, but also that they can do it, as long as they are determined and have the right attitude.”
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
If asked to roll up his pants to the knee and show his titanium legs, Chuck Harper will gladly oblige.
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Amendment 7 backers tout safety, new jobs; foes say special interests to benefit
Billions of dollars are on the line when Missouri voters head to the polls on Tuesday to consider Amendment 7.
The constitutional amendment, sent to the voters by the Legislature this year, would temporarily increase Missouri’s sales tax by three-quarters of 1 percent, raising an estimated $5.4 billion for the next decade to fund transportation projects. That includes more than $114.1 million in state funds for projects in Newton and Jasper counties, on top of additional revenue for localities that would be raised.
After the Missouri Department of Transportation downsized in recent years, these projects are now mostly designed and built by private engineers, contractors and laborers — many of whom have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a campaign effort to sway voters to support the measure.
Last Monday — eight days ahead of the primary election day — supporters of the measure reported having raised more than $4.1 million for a campaign committee called Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which was established last fall to support the measure.
The International Union of Operating Engineers in St. Louis and Kansas City have contributed nearly $250,000 to the effort. That total was dwarfed by the $649,398 put in by the Industry Advancement Fund Heavy Constructors. Between its Missouri and Kansas companies, APAC — a construction contracting company that specializes in transportation projects — has contributed more than $150,000.
“The whole idea that money is flowing into the campaign, of course it is,” said Sen. John Lamping, a St. Louis Republican who is opposed to the measure. “It would be a smart business decision to do that.”
Lamping said the money pouring into the campaign supporting Amendment 7 is indicative of the financial gain the measure bodes for contractors and laborers.
Lamping proposed a measure in the Legislature that would redirect one-eighth of existing sales and use tax revenue directly to transportation projects, but he said that measure was rejected by legislative leaders. The coalition “didn’t hear about it,” the outgoing senator said, “because it was my idea instead of someone else’s idea.”
Lamping, who filibustered a similar measure in 2013, said Republicans have an ideological consistency problem on the issue. He pointed to the Legislature passing a sales tax increase only a few weeks after overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income tax cut that will largely help businesses organized as limited liability corporations, like many of the companies that could benefit from the measure. Lamping said that the tax increase will mostly affect taxpayers who did not get a significant tax cut.
“Who wants a tax cut in Missouri?” he said. “Businesses. (Republican leaders) wanted to make them happy and then they passed a tax cut. This is grand-scale special interest cronyism.”
The ad campaign being funded mostly by the business interests features paramedics and construction workers claiming the measure would “fix our roads and keep Missouri families safe.”
“We have a chance to give our highways and bridges the repairs they need,” says one ad, which is running in Joplin and statewide in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote. “We have a chance to fix what’s broken by voting yes on Amendment 7.”
The commercial uses a lot of words to talk about the benefits of the measure, but two words in particular are noticeably absent from the commercial: “Tax increase.”
“The ads don’t mention any of the ballot language,” said Jewell Patek, a spokesman for Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs. “We figure Missourians will see the language when they go to the polls.”
Patek, a former state representative who now lobbies the Legislature, said he disagreed with Lamping’s notion that Amendment 7 is all about special interest gain.
“There’s quite a bit to gain for Missourians,” he said. “We have serious road needs. We’ll win or lose by the benefits in Amendment 7. I’m not sure I agree with Senator Lamping’s assessment.”
If approved, Amendment 7 would prevent an increase in the state’s fuel tax, a funding boost opponents of the amendment like Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and some of the state’s social welfare groups have said would be more appropriate because it could pull in revenue from people who use the roads — like the state’s trucking industry.
The Missouri Truckers Association’s political action committee has contributed more than $27,000 to the effort to pass the measure. Tom Crawford, president of the association, said his members support the amendment because they see the problems on the road and deal with them every day. And passage of the measure does not mean anyone will stop paying fuel tax.
“We overpay our fair share on the fuel tax,” he said, pointing to statistics by the American Transportation Research Institute that show truckers have accounted for about 14 percent of road usage while paying for 39 percent of all taxes and fees owed by motorists. “We pay sales taxes just like everybody does on goods and products that people buy in the stores.”
Crawford said truck companies do not pay state sales taxes on the purchase of trucks, but they do pay a federal tax. “So, we won’t be impacted on new equipment purchase, but other areas of our business will be impacted just like every other taxpayer in the state will,” he said.
Thomas Shrout, who is helping lead the campaign against the tax hike, said that is not good enough and that Amendment 7 lets truck drivers off the hook. “Under Amendment 7, they wouldn’t have to pay any more,” he said.
Shrout’s opposition campaign has raised just over $27,000 — less than 1 percent of the total money raised by its supporters. They are targeting their opposition at the state’s urban core by spending money on direct mail and targeted robocalls in the final week.
“We think using the sales tax to fund road projects is poor policy for the state of Missouri,” he said. “It should be rejected.”
Shrout said the Missouri Department of Transportation and its supporters should go back to the drawing board and consider some of the other options like campaigning for toll roads or a gas tax increase — both based on road usage.
Representatives for APAC and the Heavy Constructors Association declined requests for comment.
Amendment 7 is one of five measures voters will consider when they head to the polls on Tuesday. Statewide, local election officials reported to the Missouri secretary of state that it was their estimate that about 27 percent of the state’s 4.06 million registered voters will show up to vote, including 25 percent of registered voters in Jasper County and 30 percent in Newton County.
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