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Jigsaw puzzle thearpy


“Things turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out” — John Wooden

The famous basketball coach could have had former White Hall resident Steve Carter in mind with his observation of “making the best of a bad situation.”

Carter, 53, a graduate of White Hall High School and a former Bulldog football player, suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in 1993 at his home in Oklahoma City. When blood flow is stopped by a stroke, the brain cannot get crucial oxygen. Brain cells can die, causing permanent damage.

Carter spent 19 days in a coma, said his mother, Carol Carter, and a total of five months in an Oklahoma City hospital and rehabilitation facility. He was paralyzed on his right side, had vision, speech and memory problems. Depending on how severe the stroke is, it can have an enormous impact on a person’s life.

Unable to continue his work as the manager of the paint shop for a large Oklahoma car dealership, he was moved back to White Hall and later lived with his father, Jack Carter, and mother.

Individuals who lead independent lives before a stroke, and now rely on outside help, often have a lot of adjusting to do – both psychologically and in the practical aspects of their day-to-day life, medical personnel say. More than half of people who have a stroke are able to function and live at home, but many are unable to care for themselves.

While living with his parents, Steve was introduced to jigsaw puzzles by his father. Working on the puzzles helped Steve overcome clumsiness, confusion and loss of memory, and the ability to focus on a task, Carol said.

“He took to it immediately,” Carol said. “He can’t read because of his vision problems, but he didn’t get upset.”

Grief and sadness are normal after a stroke, medical personnel indicated. However, Carol Carter said Steve has maintained his humor and his religious faith has deepened since the stroke.

He resided with his parents until mid-December, 2007, when Jack Carter became ill. Carol made the decision to move Steve to Davis West, a Pine Bluff nursing home, when looking after two patients at home became more than she could handle. Jack Carter died in 2008.

She visits Steve several times a week and also receives aid and support from Mike Carter of Pine Bluff, Steve’s older brother, and his sister, Sharon Failla of White Hall. Church members also visit often.

In his halting speech, Steve said the puzzles gave him a goal. “You just keep working at it until you get it worked out.”

He works with large puzzles, consisting of 1,000 pieces. Some of the pieces are so small that three can be covered with a quarter. It may take Steve several weeks, even a month or more, to complete the detailed projects.

Once finished, he explained, he brushes both sides of the puzzle with a glue to hold the pieces together. Numerous puzzles he has completed have been framed and are hanging on the walls of Davis West.

Carol Carter remembers physicians telling her and her husband the day of the stroke that Steve was not expected to survive.

“He has always accepted what happened to him,” she told a recent visitor to the nursing home. “He has a good outlook and good disposition.”

Steve inherited his artistic abilities for painting cars and the jigsaw puzzles from his father, she added.

Steve said he can’t explain his success with the puzzles. “I don’t know,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. He indicated the puzzles have made a difference in his life. He said he can relax while assembling the puzzles, starting first with the edges and corners, then working toward the center area.

He doesn’t remember an interest in puzzles before the stroke.

Steve and his mother have worked out a system on ordering the puzzles, many of which have strong historical ties. He looks through a catalog and she will order 5-6 of his selections at a time.

A Christmas card he received one year gave him an idea for a puzzle and he spotted one in a catalog. It has been finished, framed, and is hanging on a wall at the nursing home.

Steve is easy to spot at the nursing home and usually wears clothing indicating his allegiance to the Arkansas Razorbacks and Dallas Cowboys football teams.

His favorite cap is from the Cowboys and covered with Super Bowl pens collected by his brother Mike.

He calls his mother each morning and recently surprised the nursing home staff by remembering her home number.

“I don’t know,” Steve replied when asked how he remembered the number. “God is good,” he added, pointing upward with his left index finger.