Jaclyn Anthony / Lincoln Times-News Dustin Leatherman in his home in Newton.
Dustin Leatherman has been paralyzed from the chest down for more than a decade due to an ATV accident in 2002.
At the time of the incident, the Newton man had been riding on the back of the vehicle through a wooded area behind his house on Mt. Olive Church Road.
During the event, Leatherman fell, but the 4-wheeler, driven by his brother, proceeded to run over his body, breaking his neck and instantly severing all feeling in his arms and legs.
However, since that tragic day, Leatherman has regained limited use of his arms and hands due to a number of physical therapy sessions over the years.
While a majority of his body remains lifeless, his spirit continues to persevere, prompting him to stay positive and look beyond his permanent condition.
While most would say the accident took Leatherman’s life by significantly impairing his physical abilities, he would tell you the incident saved his life — bringing him to God and removing him from a lifestyle of hardcore drugs.
“That was kind of my wake-up call,” he said.
Prior to 2002, heroin, meth, cocaine and a variety of other addictive substances controlled his life.
Leatherman said he initially experimented with drugs at age 14 and, over the years, often found himself using needles to shoot up and get high.
While he broke away from drugs and even attended seminary for a little over a year at Fruitland Baptist Bible College in Hendersonville, he eventually dropped out and once again picked up the habit-forming lifestyle.
Then the accident happened.
It wasn’t long before Leatherman leaned on the Christian faith to help him cope with the drastic life change and the reality that he would probably never walk again.
A year after his accident he even established a ministry for disabled people through his church, Mountain View Baptist.
Called DFL Ministries, the group targets disabled individuals living with a variety of impairments from blindness and Spina Bifida to autism, Down syndrome and multiple sclerosis.
However, Leatherman not only started the ministry to show care to community members with similar struggles — struggles that, if not shared, can lead to much loneliness, confusion and bitterness, he said — but to also encourage caregivers.
“A lot of people forget and don’t think about the people behind the scenes,” he said.
Each month, the group meets to socialize and encourage one another, even bowling at Pin Station in Newton on occasion.
In addition to hanging out with members of the ministry, Leatherman spends a majority of his time reading Scripture — including his favorite verse, Philippians 4:13 — along with watching movies, cheering on his favorite team, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, or playing in the yard with his 9-year-old Golden Retriever, Maddox.
He believes God wants him to carry on with life, in spite of his impairment, rather than halting it.
“There’s life out there beyond your disability,” he said.
Leatherman even completes a number of responsibilities on his own including driving.
Through a system of hand controls, he frequently operates his mini-van and stores his power chair, his main source of daily travel, inside the vehicle.
“I just get in the car and go,” he said.
Currently on temporary bed rest to alleviate pressure sores, Leatherman has been receiving assistance from caretakers with an organization in Granite Falls.
Nurses visit the home once a week and help him bathe and carry out tasks he can’t do alone.
He is currently seeking financial assistance for an advanced treatment option called Accelerated Recovery Program (ARP) Wave Therapy.
While the treatment is costly, he continues to rely on God for provision.
“The Lord’s going to work it out,” he said.
The therapy has been known to improve one’s overall quality of life by speeding up the body’s recovery time by nearly 75 percent, according to Melissa Lynch with Body Electric Rejuvenation Center in Cornelius.
It utilizes a neurological device to identify whatever disconnect exists between the client’s body and brain.
Leatherman is specifically hoping the therapy will decrease his daily pain and possibly increase feeling and mobility in his arms.
Lynch told the Times-News in an email earlier this week that she believes the treatment could potentially “have Dustin up and out of that wheelchair and walking.”
The therapy typically consists of 10 $100 sessions, Body Electric’s Business Coordinator Amy Poindexter said, but may require additional times for individuals with more chronic ailments.
In order to help with the cost of the treatment, Living Lady Ministries of North Carolina, Inc., plans to host a chili cook-off event on Sunday.
The fundraiser, which Leatherman plans to attend, will be from noon-4 p.m. at 515 North N.C. 16 in Denver, and will feature 20 different food samplings along with live music and door prizes.
Cost is $10 for adults and $4 for children.
For more information, email email@example.com.
For further details on DFL Ministries, visit dflministries.net. Individuals may also contact Dustin at (828) 320-9014 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call Lisa Austin at (828) 695-1319.