Local pioneer raises awareness | SteamboatToday.com

Local pioneer raises awareness

Man who suffered stroke makes tragedy a personal victory

Danie Harrelson

— Jim Kittle left Steamboat Springs more than six years ago with every intention of returning.

He finally came home yesterday.

The former owner of Mountain Paint and Supply suffered a stroke on a weekend trip to Las Vegas in May 1995.

He remained in a coma for a few weeks before he was moved to Denver, where he has remained since his accident.

The stroke left him paralyzed on his right side and wheelchair-bound. In his limited mobility, however, he found a new kind of freedom.

Through rehabilitation and therapy, he discovered how he could improve his own lifestyle and the quality of life for other stroke victims.

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He helped to form The Hangout Resources Network, which provides support for survivors of brain injuries, as well as their friends and families.

Members meet weekly to learn new skills, socialize and become more independent.

Most importantly, The Hangout gives its members the means to reach beyond their limitations and become a viable part of the community, Kittle said.

He is well known in the Denver area and among Colorado lawmakers as an ardent supporter of reintegration of brain injury survivors into society.

His work leaves him with little time to bemoan his condition, he said.

“I was worried that the rest of my life would be spent watching soap operas,” Kittle said. “Now I know that I won’t ever have the time.”

After so many years in Denver, he wanted to return to his roots to share with friends and supporters how a tragedy became a personal victory.

“I thought my life was over,” Kittle said. “Now I see that it has just begun.”

Kittle never would have been able to return home had it not been for the generosity of local businesses, said Sam Stell, a friend of Kittle’s.

Alpine Taxi offered him a free round-trip ride from Denver to Steamboat Springs, and the Holiday Inn is providing him with meals and a room.

Before Kittle returns to Denver on Saturday afternoon, Stell wants to raise local awareness about The Hangout.

“Those of us who are not wheelchair-bound have no idea what it must be like to go day to day, unable to get up and move when and where we want to,” Stell said. “It’s a whole different outlook on life.”

The Panda Garden is hosting a fund-raiser from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday to benefit the nonprofit organization.

Stell hopes people will turn out to buy the $5 tickets for a raffle made possible by donations from area businesses.

This is part of Kittle’s effort to share his passion for other victims of brain injuries with people who do not live in the Denver area. He wants to see The Hangout spread throughout the state.

While Kittle would love to remain in Steamboat Springs, the winter weather makes getting around very difficult, Stell said.

“He’s definitely a pioneer in Denver in raising people’s consciousness about these injuries,” Stell said. “But this will always be his home.”

Kittle has no regrets about his life-changing injury.

“If I had a choice to regain my mobility and return to the way that I was, I couldn’t do it,” Kittle said. “This accident completely reshaped the way I look at things.”

After his accident, he took an interest in many new pursuits, poetry being one of them.

The last line of one of his poems best sums up his new attitude on life:

“I want to make God say, ‘I was right in letting him live.'”