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Fundraising campaign underway now aimed at helping paralyzed nurse become more independent and get back to work

Jason Wendlandt with his wife and children
Jason Wendlandt on GoFundMe
Jason Wendlandt with his wife and children

Jason Wendlandt was injured in a car accident last fall on his way home from working a night shift.

Caring for people is often what people who become nurses say is their calling in life. And that’s how it was for Jason Wendlandt, a 44-year-old from Long Lane just outside of Buffalo, Missouri.

He began his career as an emergency medical technician right out of college.

"(I) came home that first summer after college and got a job and never looked back," he said.

Wendlandt went on to get his paramedic license and to work in that field. He was the emergency management director for Dallas County for a time, but through all that, he thought about becoming a nurse.

One day he and his wife were in Springfield, when she pulled into the parking lot of Ozarks Technical Community College.

"And I said, 'what are you doing?' And she's like, 'you're going in to register for classes right now,' so that's what I did — I went in and registered for my (prerequisites), and the rest is history," said Wendlendt.

After nursing school, he realized nursing was his calling. As a paramedic, he addressed patients’ immediate needs. Nurses, he said, are there for longer term care.

"You get to build a relationship with your patients in the hospital that you didn't get to on the ambulance," he said, "you know, and I appreciated that fact. I've always been a people person. I like getting to know people, and I also like getting to see that the things we're doing in the hospital setting right now is actually helping these people, you know, so we got to see the long term outcome of what we were doing and the treatments actually work."

In 2021, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. She took a leave of absence, and Wendlandt took a job as a travel nurse to help pay the bills.

One morning – October 3 of last year — he was driving his Jeep home after working the night shift.

"I didn't feel tired when I left work," he said, "but it was sunny out that day, and I guess I got comfortable while driving home. I was just a little over halfway home, and I fell asleep, ran off the roadway, went end over end. I don't remember much of the accident. I remember hitting something, and I remember going airborne, but that's the last thing I remember. But apparently — I've been told — I went end over end at least once if not twice and then rolled three times back across the highway."

He recognized the voice of the paramedic who responded to the scene – they had worked together. He told his former coworker, Jim, he couldn’t feel his legs or move them. He said he wanted to be taken to CoxHealth, which his insurance would cover and where he had worked as a staff nurse.

Wendlandt is in a wheelchair now – paralyzed from the waist down. And the person who used to care for others has become the patient.

"Ever since the accident, I have to ask for help every single day, you know, whether that's help going to the restroom, whether that's help getting dressed, you know, whether that's help fixing my food, I have to ask for help with everything," he said. "You know, I mean, I try to be as independent as possible, but there's things that I absolutely cannot do right now."

One of the biggest challenges, he said, has been having to ask for help. And that’s what he’s doing now through a fundraiser on GoFundMe.

He’s trying to become as independent as possible. The family has purchased a wheelchair accessible van, but it doesn’t have hand controls, "so, right now, if I go anywhere I have to have somebody drive me," he said. "You know, I can get my wheelchair in the van, but I can't drive it yet, so, to get the hand controls — and that's what the fundraiser's for is for hand controls and a locking mechanism for my chair."

Next Move Healthcare, who Jason was working for at the time of his accident, helped organize the fundraiser. They’ve been there for the Wendlandts from the beginning.

"Jason's an amazing clinician, but he's also just an amazing human being," said John Heymach the company’s co-founder and chief clinical officer. "You know, he's dedicated his whole life to helping others."

After Heymach heard about the accident, he reached out to Wendlandt’s wife to see how the company could help. That eventually led to the campaign that’s currently underway.

"It was the result of months of conversations with his family, our legal team, the community just to make sure that, you know, he knew that we were truly there as a family and to help really give back to his life of giving back to others," said Heymach.

Wendlandt hasn’t given up on a career in nursing, and he wants to get back to work as soon as he can. He knows of some people who have gone back to being a bedside nurse from a wheelchair, but he can’t see that in his future, Instead, he hopes to become a nurse educator – teaching others who have the same calling he had.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.