July 2016 Erik's Family
July 2010 Erik's Crash
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Family Perseveres After Life Changing Accident
By RUTH BOGDAN
Bradford Era - Bradford, PA July 11, 2012
A near-fatal motorcycle accident has brought about many changes for a Bradford woman and her now-paraplegic son. For Erik Fugunt, son of Bradford resident Jacqueline Dunkle,
the accident meant adjusting to life in a changed body. Using research and ingenuity, he has made his own fate different from that of other paraplegics. Unhappy with the limitations from his injuries, Fugunt was determined to find ways to make his life better. His message to people is, “Don’t give up. Keep trying for something better.”
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of her son’s crash, Dunkle moved to a new town and wrote a book narrating her own grief and healing through the tragedy. In April 2010, Fugunt was riding his motorcycle home from the community college he attended in North Carolina, when he ran into debris on the road. He lost control of the motorcycle and hit an oak tree. On route to the hospital, he began to lose vital signs. He flatlined and was resuscitated. Once there, he flatlined again. Due to a “good judgment call” of one hospital employee, he was resuscitated again and survived.
Dunkle was living in Pittsburgh when Fugunt had his accident. It was her husband Chuck Sirko, who at that time was her fiance, who called to tell her of the crash. “It’s not good,” she recalled Chuck telling her. She immediately made the trip to North Carolina, during which, “I was prepared for him to be dead,” she said, noting he was given a zero-percent chance of survival. Beating the odds, he lived, but is now unable to use his body from his mid-waist down.
She stayed with her son for about four months in North Carolina, until he could drive and “had some sense of independence,” she said. Dunkle then moved back to Pittsburgh. She and her fiance got married and a short time later decided they needed to sell their two-story home and purchase a one-story home that would be more accommodating when Fugunt visited. Their careers allowed them to choose a home wherever they wanted. When making the decision, they said at the same time, “Bradford.” “We had a friend in this area,” she said, explaining how they always enjoyed their visits here. “We just felt such a sense of community here.”
Fugunt, meanwhile, was “coming to terms with what had to be done: how I was going to function on a day-to-day basis.” He spent months in rehabilitation learning how to move again. He felt dissatisfied with the advice “medical professionals” had to offer on his condition, as there was “no handbook” to show him how to live with his specific injuries. On a day-to-day basis, he was coming up with his own solutions for how to function. “Going through that process kind of opened my eyes,” he said.
One of the consequences of his accident is that he had no normal bowel function. Dunkle explained that, in order to take a bowel movement, the doctor instructed Fugunt to use a suppository or stool softener and wait. Dunkle recalled her son saying, “If this is the best they got, it’s not good enough,” in reaction to the instructions. It was while he was in rehabilitation that he started experimenting with a new way to help him take bowel movements. He built a device which has significantly decreased the time it takes. “It’s huge for someone who’s paraplegic,” said Dunkle of the device.
Another obstacle Fugunt and his fiancee, Jennifer Wu, ran into was that both wanted a child. Fugunt and Wu knew each other in high school and reconnected after he moved back to North Carolina. At that time, “We were both looking forward to the same goals of settling down and having a family,” said Fugunt. They had only dated a few months when the accident happened, he said. The accident “didn’t change my current goals. I still wanted a family.”
Most of the options available to him were extremely expensive. He followed the advice his doctors gave him, even spending thousands of dollars to see a fertility specialist. However, conventional methods failed to help the couple conceive. After that, Fugunt decided that if they continued to try to have a baby, he’d have to find alternate means that were more affordable. He researched other options and found an organization in Florida called the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which was trying an experimental electrostimulation method previously used only in the field of animal husbandry. As the method was experimental, participation in the program was free. They traveled to Florida to try the procedure, but Wu did not get pregnant.
Finally, using the knowledge he acquired from research, the fertility specialist and the experimental method, Fugunt gathered together his own supplies. Using method similar to that of the Miami Project, he was able to help Wu conceive a child. She is now going into her fourth month of pregnancy. “I want people to know that these options are available,” said Fugunt, explaining that he wants others in his situation to know they can have a somewhat normal family life.
“I’m not afraid to try things,” Fugunt said. He said maybe others will be willing to try new methods “if I can be the one who’s crazy enough to try it (first) and it works.” He said, “You tend to trust a doctor when you’re in that situation.” However, he felt doctors pushed certain medical treatments for financial reasons. To anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation, Wu advised, “It’s hard work. Keep loving your partner and supporting them.”
While Fugunt was learning to take back his life, Dunkle had begun writing about her son’s accident as a way to help her deal with it. She said even though her son survived, she said she still felt grief, and explained, “Part of his body died.” It “started off as a cathartic exercise,” but, “as it was starting to unfold,” she realized she was writing a book.
The book, called “Gratitude & Grit: A Mother’s Healing Journey,” may help another mother or another paraplegic who is dealing with similar circumstances, Dunkle felt. Other important resources for the injured community are online forums such as “Apparelyzed,” said Fugunt and Dunkle. They can provide both support and information.
Family Welcomes Much-Anticipated Baby
By RUTH BOGDAN
Bradford Era - Bradford, PA March 16, 2013
One couple's desire to have a baby has led them to perform an unprecedented act that
is now being recognized by the medical community.
Erik Fugunt, who is paraplegic, and his wife Jennifer wanted children so badly Fugunt
used his own ingenuity to reach their goal after they spent thousands of dollars to see a fertility specialist without success.
Fugunt and his mother, Bradford resident Jacqueline Dunkle, first talked to The Era in July 2012. At that time, Jenny Fugunt was entering her fourth month of pregnancy. Since then, they have welcomed a healthy, six pound, 19-inch baby girl into their lives.
Of the pregnancy, Fugunt said, “To be perfectly honest, it was complication-free.” He added that she was born on schedule, too. Jenny Fugunt went into labor on Christmas Day, and Mila Mei Fugunt was born at 11:01 a.m. on Dec. 26, 2012.
“It was a wild experience because I got to deliver her,” he said. He said he parked his wheelchair at the foot of the delivery bed, pulled the baby out and even cut the umbilical cord.
“She’s perfect,” he said.
When Jenny Fugunt’s water broke, Dunkle said she drove from Bradford to North Carolina, and was there in time to see the birth. While she felt tearful in the delivery room, it was until she was nearly home and had hit the Elm Street exit of U.S. Route 219 in Bradford that “the enormity of it” hit her. “I sobbed like a baby.”
It was not until she was 500 miles away that “my brain had time to process it and my heart had time to process it.”
The couple married on 12-12-12, two weeks prior to Mila’s birth. They still want to have a wedding ceremony and are deciding on the place they want to hold it.
Fugunt became paraplegic after a near-fatal motorcycle accident in April 2010. While he had only dated Jenny Fugunt, then his girlfriend, for a few months, they both had known at that time that they wanted children.
After the unsuccessful visit to the fertility specialist, Erik Fugunt’s research for other options led the couple to an organization in Florida called the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, where they tried an experimental electrostimulation method previously used only in the field of animal husbandry.
While she did not get pregnant in Miami, her husband was able to use knowledge he acquired from their experiences and his own research to gather his own supplies and perform a similar method to that used by the Miami Project. The insemination was completed at home without assistance from a medical professional.
The Miami Project now wants to publish the couple’s story in a medical journal, as it is the first documented case in which a baby was born after an at-home insemination with no medical assistance.
Fugunt said, “I think (the Miami Project is) trying to raise awareness of options,” explaining that he believes the organization want to publish it to show that it is not a difficult procedure, and in fact is relatively safe. If a guy can do it in his own home, there’s no reason is couldn’t be done on a regular basis by doctors who are not fertility specialists, he said.
Dunkle said the article could “discourage the medical field from exploiting the desperation of couples attempting to conceive.” She said the field has a “hierarchy” which people are “not supposed to question.”
However, Fugunt encourages people to do their own research when faced with a problem rather than listening to conventional wisdom. “Self-sufficiency is freedom in every sense of the word,” said Fugunt, who takes it upon himself to learn to do
more for himself than most people, despite his visible handicap.
With that attitude, Fugunt was able to achieve something in a way others would not have felt possible.
Describing how he felt delivering his daughter, Erik Fugunt said, “You feel a huge sense of accomplishment for sure. We were able to create family and create life.”
“It’s like eating an elephant,” he said, explaining that he tackled the task piece by piece, then looked back and realized, “That was a lot to undertake.”
When asked if he’ll tell Mila how she was conceived, Fugunt said, “I’m quite proud of the way she came into this world. I’ll tell her in a heartbeat."
Mila’s birth has also brought contentment to the couple’s relationship. “There’s such a burden lifted. There’s no stress anymore,” said Fugunt, adding that before and even during the pregnancy there was “a dark cloud hanging over us.”
“For somebody who isn’t going through trying to have a child, it’s really hard to explain,” he said.
He said they plan on trying for their second baby right away using the same method of conception, but this time he will add an extra step —spinning the sperm in a centrifuge — to try to increase the chance the baby will be a boy. He doesn’t know how many children they will strive for. While they do hope to have more children, Fugunt said “the pressure’s off” now that the couple has successfully brought into the world one baby. “I don’t feel the urgency. We’re going to keep trying.”
Now, Fugunt watches Mila in the morning while his wife goes to work. His current project is to renovate his garage so he can begin working on engines again. Fugunt, who said on Friday that he does not regret the accident which caused his paralysis, continues to find new ways to reach his goals.
Dunkle was also inspired from her son’s accident to take on a creative project. She began writing “Grit & Gratitude: A Mother’s Healing Journey” as a way to heal emotionally after nearly losing her son and has since published the book.
When Dunkle asked if Fugunt felt Mila was a miracle, he said he doesn’t. “In my mind she was a triumph of perseverance.” Dunkle agreed the birth was the result of his unwillingness to give up. “It’s the conception that’s the miracle,” she said, noting with wonder at how a baby grows inside his or her mother.
Miracle or triumph, Mila’s birth has brought the couple into a new chapter, which they have embraced with open arms.
“My life is family at the moment. I live family. It is life,” said Fugunt.