Unionville grad paralyzed in accident determined to get college diploma

Photo by Fran Maye Jesse Picard with his parents, Chick, left, and Jane at their East Marlborough Township home.

Next month marks one year from the time of a horrific motorcycle accident that left Jesse Picard paralyzed from the neck down. And one thing he's learned from that time is that good friends are more valuable than anything else in life.

"I want to thank all my friends so much," Picard said from his bed at his parents' home on Partridge Way in East Marlborough Township. "I wouldn't have the same frame of mind if not for all my friends."

Picard said he still remembers the accident vividly, though he tries not to think about it. It happened May 11, 2011 as he was riding his Honda 650 motorcycle on Lenape-Unionville Road when a car in front of him made a sudden U-turn. Picard reacted immediately, applying both front and back brakes. But it was too late. The collision was violent. Picard remembers nothing after the impact.

"The accident reconstruction specialist told me I did everything possible (to avoid the crash)," Picard said. "There is no way anyone skilled on a motorcycle can avoid something like that. Accidents happen, and this is the hand I was dealt in life. I try to deal with it the best I can and to play the hand the best I can."

Today Picard, 23, can't breathe on his own. He can't control his bowels and is unable to use his hands or his legs.

But all of that is just a physical barrier to Picard, who is on a mission to achieve a college diploma. He is just two credits away from a BS degree in biology from Rutgers University.

"I want to get that degree so bad," Picard said. "But I need someone to help me, to get me on the Internet and help (with computer programs)."

Picard must use his mouth to operate an optical mouse atop his computer. A program called Dragon Naturally Speaking recognizes the words he speaks and translates it into computer gestures.

Picard performs hours of rehab at home every day with the help of a nurse, who is on duty 18 hours per day. This helps him avoid atrophy in his legs.

"I'm still hoping for a cure," he said. "I'm going to try to get continuously better. I know it will take a long time, but I try my best to stay upbeat."

Helping him to stay upbeat is all the support he has been getting from the community.

Recently, the Picard house was outfitted with an electrical backup system that will ensure electricity even during a prolonged power outage. Before the system was installed, even a brief power outage could have meant death for Picard. The generator that provides contractions to his diaphragm enabling him to breathe 12 times a minute must continue uninterrupted.

That system was made possible through the generosity of many, including Oliver Heating and Cooling, Applebees, St. Michael's Lutheran Church (which delivers a meal to the Picard house every week), Kennett Run Charities, the Longwood Rotary Club, Unionville High School students, and many others.

"I'm so grateful to everyone in the community," Picard said. "It's wonderful that some of my high school friends still stop by. My friends from Unionville High are the reason I keep my head up and my spirits up."

Today, Picard passes the time by reading e-books. He's in the middle of Game of Thrones, and plans to follow with Hunger Games. When he must watch TV, he likes NCIS. After physical therapy, he finds time to work on his research paper for his college degree.

Picard's mother, Jane, said it took her a long time to accept help from the community.

"I'm not used to accepting anything, and it was very hard to learn how to accept all this generosity form the community," she said. "Everyone does this for Jesse, and all I can say is thank you."

Meanwhile, Jane, and Picard's father, Chick, said they may pursue civil action, now that the criminal case has concluded. There were no witnesses to the crash, but police reports say Picard was traveling on Unionville-Lenape Road in East Marlborough about 4 p.m. May 11 when a Jeep Liberty driven by Kathryn Steckel, 50, of Coatesville, attempted to make a U-turn on the road near Locust Grove Road.

Donations to the Jesse Picard Fund can be made to NTAF Mid-Atlantic Spinal Cord Injury Fund, 150 N. Radnor Chester Road, Suite F-120, Radnor, PA 19087. The words "In honor of Jesse Picard" must be in the memo line.

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