On August 27, 1992, Frank Garfunkel was playing squash at a Boston athletic facility and sustained a life altering injury. He suffered a contusion to the spine, which is an incomplete spinal cord injury.
“I received a call from his squash partner,” recalled Aura Sanchez Garfunkel, Mr. Garfunkel’s wife. “That evening at the hospital, they knew that it was a pretty bad injury. They knew he couldn’t move his legs, so they did whatever the protocol is to reduce inflammation.”
Mr. Garfunkel’s spine had been severely damaged in the accident. He was hospitalized for three months and returned to his Winthrop home where he would eventually have the assistance of a personal care attendant, Mary Rizzotto. Mr. Garfunkel lived for six years following the injury before passing away at the age of 69 in 1998.
Sanchez Garfunkel, a Winthrop resident, has co-authored a book, “Walk of the Centipede: A Story of One Man’s Journey Through Catastrophic Injury,” about her husband’s experiences in dealing with the devastating accident.
Sanchez Garfunkel, an immigration lawyer for victims of domestic violence at HarborCov in Chelsea, collaborated with Jay Clark, a former friend and colleague of Mr. Garfunkel’s at Boston University, to write the book.
“My husband never stopped teaching after the injury,” said Sanchez Garfunkel. “He was a professor of special education at BU. The interesting thing for me was that because he was a special education professor he was well aware of what the whole world of accessibility and reasonable accommodations was all about.”
The book is about conversations that Mr. Garfunkel had with Clark during his stay in the hospital and soon after he came home to Winthrop.
“The conversations are reflections on the injury itself, the hospitalization and how at that time the facility was not geared to making things more accessible,” said Sanchez Garfunkel. “Mostly they are conversations that reflect on what it means to be disabled and suddenly finding yourself not being able to control any of your limbs.”
Sanchez Garfunkel describes the conversations as “pretty profound.”
“The conversations are my husband’s reflections on what he was going through at that very moment,” said Sanchez Garfunkel.
In addition to the absorbing conversations, Sanchez Garfunkel wrote a series of short perspectives in “Centipede” on how her life and her husband’s life had changed as a result of the injury as well as poems about her husband and a biography about his life.
“Basically there are three voices in the book: Jay’s voice and my voice, but also Frank’s voice,” said the co-author. “My husband wanted to do these conversations because he felt they were important and allowed him to reflect and make greater sense of what was going on with his life. Jay and I decided to put them in book form after he died.”
Sanchez Garfunkel said while the devastating injury had “compromised everything physically about him, except for his brain, what it didn’t compromise was his ability to reflect and observe other people in the hospital and what they were going through. He was able to articulate his thoughts very well.”
A graduate of the Northeastern University School of Law, Sanchez Garfunkel is the former assistant receiver of the City of Chelsea. During the government reorganization that took place in that city, she became the director of health and human services. She is the mother of three adult children.
Sanchez Garfunkel is proud of the book.
“People have responded very favorably to the book,” she said. “Many people have felt that it was really helpful because they had gone though something like this as caretakers for loved ones.”
Sanchez Garfunkel hopes one message of her husband’s resonates in to the future: his belief that society needs to begin to incorporate people with disabilities and make sure that they can be as active members of society as possible.
“I would hope that my husband would be proud that I wrote a book,” said Sanchez Garfunkel. “Jay and I thought that this book has a really important message. There was the physical pain my husband experienced, but in the next moment he was talking about it in such a compelling and profound way. There were highs and lows. There were a lot of highs including the fact that our children became a lot closer as a unit.”
(You can learn more about the book, listen to the conversations, and see video at www.walkof the centipede.com)