Quadriplegic man rediscovers music after motorcycle accident

The day everything changed

Wells’ grandfather put him on a motorcycle for the first time when he was 6 years old. His grandfather set the choke and let Wells go free. The skills we pick up as children make them second nature when we’re older, and so the motorcycle became an extension of Wells’ body. Although never a professional rider, Wells took the sport seriously and participated in many competitions over the years

When his daughters were young, he put them on motorcycles, just like his grandfather had done for him. It was a gift of joy and freedom. Why not share it with his daughters?

In 1992, Wells was a new father. His three daughters were all under the age of 10. He had decided to move to Oregon with plans to buy a motorcycle shop and teach at a college in Eugene. One evening, he went for a walk in the shale hills at the base of The Cliffs Book as he had done many times before. He and another rider were turning when the rider in front of him missed a turn and put his bike down. Wells’ split-second decision to get away from the other rider sent him tumbling off his bike.

“I just hit it wrong. I hit the top of the head instead of the side,” Wells recalled.

He never lost consciousness. He was present for all. He just felt like he couldn’t move his body.

The doctor was a straight shooter, Wells said. The doctor came in and told my family: “He’s paralyzed from the neck down, get used to it.” And so, what do you do from there?”

Wells’ immediate thoughts upon hearing this were not of motorcycles or guitars. His number one concern was whether he would get to hug his daughters again.

A legacy lives on

Wells has what is known as incomplete quadriplegia. Complete quadraplegia is what most people think of when they hear the term: complete paralysis of all four limbs. That was Wells’ initial diagnosis. However, exactly four months after the accident, he moved his left leg ever so slightly. Immediately after that, he moved his left thumb.

These small movements began a long journey of recovery that would eventually level him with a relatively strong left side of his body and a weak and weak right side. His right hand would never be able to press strings on fretboards and play notes on a guitar. He thought about it for a while. He could hug his daughters. He felt lucky to still be able to work as a researcher and technical writer and provide for his family.

Fifteen years later, Wells’ brother had a Les Paul guitar and placed it in Wells’ lap and said, “Play it or drop it.” Wells tried to hold on, but he didn’t take it off.

“And then I realized when I grabbed my neck, I naturally raised my palm up and found myself moving my fingers a little bit. All of a sudden you think, maybe i can do that.”

He danced with his left hand and, to his genuine surprise, the notes sounded. His love for the guitar was reawakened. He began looking through catalogs for a guitar that would fit on his body so he could play. But he couldn’t find anything. Wells decided to make one.

He based the shape on a Fender Stratocaster and called his creation the Quadricaster (his sense of humor was unaffected by his injury).

Wells bought an empty wooden electric guitar body and began sculpting it so it would fit on his lap. He carved a large scoop into the top to leave room for his right arm to rest so he could reach the strings more easily. He wired it up to his preferred specs and installed the best pickups. The guitar is fully equipped with electronics that help create long and sustained notes. He started making music again, the kind he always loved: nuance, atmosphere, complimentary sounds.

Reflecting on the motorcycle accident, Wells said, “I’m kind of glad it happened to me. Because if it didn’t, I would have had a bike shop in Oregon and my daughters would have been racing and riding because everyone loved it. And no doubt, they would have been hurt.”

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