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Former Chicago Cop Shows Courage After He's Shot, Paralyzed

September 01, 2004
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Former Chicago Cop Shows Courage After He's Shot, Paralyzed

Success Story: Jim Mullen:
The courage Jim Mullen exemplified on patrol is nothing compared to the resolve he shows every day since becoming paralyzed.

by Raine, Keith, Paraplegia News

As a six-and-a-half year veteran of the Chicago police Department, Jim Mullen had put together a nice life for himself. He had a wife, a 6-month-old daughter, and a house. He mowed the lawn, relaxed and watched football on Sundays, and fixed things around the house.

As a child growing up in northwest Chicago, he always knew he would become a police officer. It ran in his family and he believed it to be honorable work. He never imagined how much his life would change in an instant, and his dreams of a long career in the police force would become unfulfilled.

However, Mullen's story shows that disability does not deter dreams from being accomplished and that success is not only arrived at on capable legs.

While on patrol on October 16, 1996, Mullen responded to a call of shots fired. When he arrived at the scene, the offender opened an apartment door and fired multiple .357 rounds at Mullen. One of the bullets struck through his neck, shattered his jaw, and lodged in his spinal cord.

More units arrived and struggled to keep Mullen alive, performing CPR until an ambulance arrived. He was rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he remained in intensive care for roughly two months, much of that time in a drug-induced coma.

Defying all odds, Mullen survived. He spent the next five months at the Rehabilitation institute of Chicago. The bullet had left Mullen quadriplegic, and he must use a ventilator for the rest of his life. To this day, he still requires 24-hour nursing care, and he undergoes rehabilitation therapy every day. The rehab process will be an ongoing routine for the rest of his life.

Mullen's story inspired millions; he received media coverage, led the city of Chicago's St. Patrick's Day Parade, and received countless awards and honors for his bravery and sacrifice. He was also an honored guest of President Bush on February 2, 2001, when the President unveiled his "New Freedom Initiative" for Americans with disabilities. Nevertheless, the courage Mullen exemplified on patrol when he was injured is nothing compared to the resolve he now shows every day since becoming paralyzed.

Needless to say, the changes that occurred in Mullen's life were immense. The support he received, however, was equally tremendous. During his time in the ICU at NMH, a family member or friend was by his side 24 hours a day. The Chicago police also stationed an officer at the door to his room. He found inspiration from his wife Athena, his parents, sister, and especially his daughter. Mullen knew he had to survive to provide for her, and that thought kept him grounded.

Back to Work

Less than a year after his injury, Mullen returned to work for the City of Chicago. He worked at the Community Policing Program and also helped with public relations. While it was good to be back, the physical demands of the job were too much for Mullen, and he decided to leave. He began to work from home and before long had started two companies.

After he left his job with the city, Mullen discovered another passion: computers. He began surfing the Internet and found that "in cyberspace there are no barriers--we are all equal."

Mullen has a special computer that uses voice-recognition technology to perform mouse and keyboard commands. Prior to his injury; he could not even use a computer; now he couldn't imagine life without it. In fact, the computer became such an instrumental aspect of his life that he started a charitable foundation providing free computers to people with disabilities. Dell, Gateway, Microsoft, IBM, and other Chicago-area computer films joined in the effort, which has resulted in the largest computer giveaway to individuals with disabilities in Chicago's history.

The Jim Mullen Foundation works to bridge the digital divide by using technology to help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Mullen believes there is no reason computers should be going to landfills when they can be refurbished and serve a great benefit to this population. His company, Visual Highway, also makes use of technology to help people with disabilities. Visual Highway promotes an "enabled vision" to corporations to help them make the workplace more suitable for people of all abilities.

There is no more mowing the lawn or fixing things around the house for Mullen, and these are some of the things he misses doing most. A typical day for him now consists of about two hours of morning care after waking up. He then is transferred into his wheelchair and attends to his business and foundation. Just like every other working parent, however, he finds time to play with his daughter and also spends time with friends and his wife. He generally goes to bed around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m.

Some Things Remain the Same ...

While he certainly never wanted to be injured, Mullen kept a positive attitude throughout the ordeal. He remembers that adjusting to the change in his schedule and lifestyle was difficult--especially the lack of privacy and the dependence on others--but his life has not changed too much as a result of paralysis. He overcomes obstacles (albeit different ones) just as he did before his injury and is the same Jim Mullen he has always been.

For instance, his passion has always been classic muscle cars. While he no longer can drive them, he had a ceiling-mounted lift installed in his garage. He now can be lowered into a car, and his ventilator sits behind him. The injury did not prevent him from doing what he loved; it only altered how he did it. His passion nowadays is classic convertible muscle cars.

People can either accept the changes or not, he says; in either case, they are the ones who will have to overcome their prejudices, not he. In fact, Mullen has proven since his injury that he is capable of more than maybe he even thought.

As a result of his injury, Mullen certainly has a unique appreciation for life. When asked about his goals for the future, he wryly declares, "To get up in the morning."

All joking aside, he explains, "Where do you go when you are on top of the world? I know I should not have survived that injury, and as a result I look at each day as a gift, and try to live it up."

While his foundation and business are important aspects of his life, Mullen's biggest measure of success these days is his daughter. Watching her grow up and helping her along the way has been the most fulfilling and rewarding part of his life.

Mullen has found a new calling as an inspirational speaker. His message is simple: "I am ventilator dependent and paralyzed from the neck down. I am a husband, a father, I own a small business, do speaking engagements, and run a charitable foundation. If I can accomplish all of this in my situation, just imagine what you can accomplisher, better yet, all the good we can accomplish together."

Sometimes it takes a special person like Mullen to remind us of our true potential, and that the only barriers we cannot overcome are the ones we set for ourselves. He shows this every day in what he accomplishes.

To learn more about the Jim Muller Foundation, visit www.jimmullen.com.

The Jim Mullen Charitable Foundation was created with the central goal of making computer technology available to Americans who have disabilities or are disadvantaged. As part of JMF's broader goal of raising awareness to provide innovative approaches to increase independence and access to the social and economic lives of Americans with disabilities, the foundation created the New Freedom Awards in 2003 to acknowledge individuals and organizations that create such innovations.

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