By Ron Cook
In my life’s path, there have crossed many good people, many interesting folks, and a few incredibly prodigious heroes. These heroes stand out in what they do, how they do it, and who they are. I will remain forever powerfully impacted by their passing through my life. In deep gratitude, I would like to present to you one of these angels/heroes I have known among us…
I met Lenny Clouatre on a ride with Father Dan Cook (yes, related) to the Catholic church in Gorum, Louisiana (Saint Margaret Mary). We “loaded” Lenny into Father Dan’s Ford Truck at the Marigold Place Assisted-Living Home where Lenny held residence. As we passed over the Cane River on our way to Saint Margaret Mary Chapel, Lenny explained how he had landed in a wheelchair forty-three years ago on that very day! This is part of Lenny’s story … the parts he told me with his words … his actions … his friendship … his remarkable spirit.
As a seventeen-year-old, (Lenny shared with me in the gazebo at Marigold), Lenny was being pulled by a rope on a tube behind a motorboat down the Cane River. Suddenly, the boat swerved to avoid a tree trunk in the river. The boat missed the tree, but Lenny and his tube did not. Lenny’s head struck the trunk, causing massive damage to his brain stem yet, fortunately, to be learned later, not to his brain itself.
This is Lenny’s story in the order he recalled it to me …
I was in a coma for six weeks. In ICU, the only visitors I could have were my parents, but they could be with me twenty-four hours a day. I weighed 160 pounds at the time of the accident. I was at 93 pounds when I came out of the coma. My mother stayed in the waiting room, and noticed I was getting skinnier. One day my mother was crying, as always, and she hugged me saying, “NO, you are not taking him!” My dad said, “Why not, can’t you see they are starving him? They won’t let you take him home.” My parents then agreed to stay with me all the time and make sure I was being taken care of.
For the next year, I spent time at three different hospitals for tests. The bills were getting outrageous. My dad was in the military. I was sent to a medical center in Houston, Texas for more therapy.
When I came out of the coma the first thing, I was able to notice, was moving my finger and arm. I had been on a life-machine the whole time. When I woke up, I thought I had a bad hangover, and someone had tied me down. I came home to Alexandria from Houston for two years. My parents then took me to Miami Cedar of Lebanon Hospital to work on my spine. These doctors wanted to cut open my spine, which might have left me paralyzed. We decided not to do this, and came home for another two years.
Then we were contacted about another new surgery that stimulates the spinal cord. A little unit, like a quarter, was put in my back. Electrodes were hooked to my brain to give it a shock. This did not turn out as good as we thought it might.
In 1977 my parents moved into a bigger house. I lived in another house, but my parents took care of both houses. In 2005 my father died. When my mother died in 2015, I was alone. I went into a deep depression. For eight months, I took care of myself. My brother went to work early. And then I began a spiritual journey. In the beginning years, my parents saved my life. Their deaths sent me into a deep, dark place. In 2017, I started living at Marigold Place. I needed more help … and then a funny thing happened. A friend I met many years ago came back into my life. I used to play basketball with Kay’s brother when she was ten years old. We would talk back then, but I lost track of her until two or three years ago. Kay’s sister told her how depressed I was. Kay came to see me and tickled the hell out of me!!!
As a child, Lenny made his First Communion at six years old. He made his Confirmation at eleven, taking the name “Joseph.” Lenny was an altar boy at twelve. He was a military child and lived on many military bases. Lenny makes his home in Alexandria now. He participates in many activities at his Marigold home. Lenny and I have a great uplifting friendship. He went dancing with me one night out at the Airport. That was a HOOT! Ladies came over to bring Lenny out to dance many times. Once I came back to the table from a dance. I asked Lenny if he wanted something to drink. He said, “No, I think I’ll check things out.” He then proceeded to wheel around the whole floor talking and visiting with everyone along the way. What a ham!
Lenny and I made an A.C.T.S. retreat together in August of 2018. Lenny fully participated in all the great activities. He gave several “shares” that were awesome! Lenny has given talks at church. He has been an inspiration to everyone who meets him. Lenny always has a smile, a joke, and a good word to say. He is a great friend of mine. He is an everyday hero who lives the words of Saint Mother Teresa who said:
We are at Jesus’ disposal.
If he wants you to be sick in bed,
If he wants you to proclaim his work in the street,
If he wants you to clean toilets all day,
That’s all right, everything is all right.
We must say, “I belong to you.
You can do whatever you like.”
And this is our strength.
This is the joy of the Lord.
-Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta
I am finishing this story on Good Friday evening … I think that is no coincidence … When you see Lenny, please tell him his good friend, Ron, says “Hi!” Lenny is a classic example of humility, service, love and acceptance. He is our first Everyday Hero…