Life Adjustment Program a true treat for Hilltop patients
The patients reach and grab memories from before their brain injuries. Those images, clear and long-term, provide an explanation.
They explain the present.
Suplizio Field is green and towering and regal, although Dwayne Hefley’s eyes won’t perceive it. The 58-year-old, one of the patients who stays at Hilltop’s Bacon Campus, is blind. But when Hefley is at Suplizio Field, blindness only enhances the vision in his mind’s eye.
“It’s like a Major League stadium,” he said.
He takes the visions, such as those of ballparks from his days of playing on the Grand Valley Cleaners softball team, and then, when at Suplizio, fills in the rest. He listens. He feels. And the stadium becomes vivid.
Sitting in a wheelchair recently at a meeting room at the Hilltop campus, wearing a Denver Broncos hat and shirt with a Broncos towel draped across his legs, Hefley remembers the games he’s attended at Suplizio since the early 1980s.
“I like the game,” Hefley said, the words deep and straining. “Like I was sighted again. “
For more than 20 years, Hilltop and its Life Adjustment Program, led by Barbara Burch, has been busing patients to and from the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
The patients say JUCO brings them around friends — they speak to many of the same security guards each year. It puts them among the chatter and around ballpark smells. And this year, the first since renovations at Suplizio, they’ll have handicapped-accessible elevators to usher them to the second-level concourse.
The catwalk provides unobstructed views, unlike during past years when rows of bars and a stream of walking fans crossed their view.
In the afternoon, the press box and hospitality suites above the mezzanine will at times provide shade.
And the patients will be back in the game. Back in the world.
“It’s the crowd,” said a patient with the Colorado Rockies hat. “All the noise.”
And then Glen “Bee Bop” Butler remembers the pickup basketball games at Lincoln Park, which is where the nickname came from. He remembers seeing some of the same people during those games, just like he will at the JUCO World Series. He thinks further back through those long-term memories — for many patients, the memories on which they rely — and he recalls playing football for Grand Junction High School as a senior in 1975 and winning a Southwestern League title. He knows that Suplizio Field will give him, for the two or three games on a given day, a “normal” life.
“Define normal,” Patrick Roper insists. “Normal to one person might be abnormal to another.”
Roper, like many of the other patients, does not have a problem processing rational thoughts. Often, the trouble is spinning thoughts into spoken words. Roper talks, and tends to accompany his words with a slow, palm-down movement, as though gently pushing a tray on wheels.
Ralph Chavez has been living in a hospital since 1979.
No longer will he or any other patient be behind the backstop or the first-base dugout. This season, it’s almost as though they’ll be on stage. Elevated along the first-base side, each spot is next to a regular seat and is close to handicapped bathrooms.
“There’s a new normal,” explained Chavez. “You get by.”