Ever since he broke his neck in a car crash, Peter Griffin has spent much of his life confined to a Miami Gardens bedroom, dependent on a few caregivers who help with his day-to-day personal needs.
“I learned a lot of stuff,” says Griffin, 39, who became paralyzed in an auto accident 17 years ago on a dark, remote highway about 30 miles from Tallahassee.
“Being patient was a big thing,” he says. “I had to humble myself. When you’re the kind of person who does everything for himself, when you have to [suddenly] depend on somebody else, it’s a very humbling experience. Pride and everything went out the door.”
Griffin is unable to move his legs and has little sensation in his arms and hands. He cannot shower or go to the bathroom himself. His catheter must be emptied several times a day. His wheelchair won’t fit in the room.
Lizzette Puig, Griffin’s Miami-Dade County social worker, describes his situation as “heartbreaking.”
“He’s not able to accomplish things in life that other 39-year-olds are able to,” said Puig, who nominated him for the Miami Herald’s Wish Book.
Griffin would like a video surveillance camera at his front door, so he can see who’s knocking when he’s home alone. Otherwise, he has to make arrangements for nurses and other caretakers to come inside.
“It’s for his safety,” Puig says of the camera. “He doesn’t want to let someone in he doesn’t know. He can’t defend himself.”
Puig also is hoping Griffin will be able to replace his old, broken stereo receiver, so that he’ll have something to entertain him.
Born in Nassau, Bahamas, Griffin and his family moved to Jamaica and then to North Miami. He graduated from Carol City High School in 1994 and worked a year to save money to attend Tallahassee Community College.
Griffin’s nightmare began July 1, 1996, along Interstate 10 in Madison County outside Tallahassee. After attending a church banquet during a weekend trip home in Miami, he and a friend took turns driving back to North Florida.
About 1 a.m., Griffin says he put the passenger seat in a reclining position and was asleep. His friend “dozed off” behind the wheel.
“When she woke up, she noticed she was driving towards oncoming traffic on the other side of the road,” he recalls. “The grass was wet. The car spun around, it went off into the trees. I remember bracing myself. When the car stopped, I remember my legs were on the dashboard. I’m six-one. The car I was in was a small car. I knew that wasn’t normal. My legs should be on the floor, not the dashboard.
“I had a pain in my neck and I couldn’t move,” he recalls. “When I told her about it, she got a little scared. One, because we were so far off in the trees that she didn’t want to get out of the car. Two, she was scared for me because I couldn’t do anything.”
Griffin used a cellphone to call for help. It took a while, but eventually paramedics found the accident scene.
“Once rescue came, they said I was fine because I didn’t have a scratch on me. It wasn’t until EMT took off my shoe and did like a scratch test, a sensory test, that they knew I was in trouble.”
By that time, the ambulance had “filled with mosquitoes” and become unusable, so paramedics called for a rescue helicopter. There was no place to land, so another ambulance was called.
“By the time I got [to the hospital], the swelling on my spinal canal pressed down on my nerves, which caused my paralysis,” Griffin says. “I had a broken neck. I can’t voluntarily move my legs. ... I can move my hands but I can’t have motor skills to my fingers. I’m a little numb on my right side.”
After being released from a North Florida hospital intensive-care unit, doctors transferred Griffin to Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Eventually he went home with his mother. She died three years ago. His sister and her children, ages 9 and 16, help care for him.
“My day to day is basically I get up between six and seven. My nurse or my aide comes about 8 o’clock in the morning to get me dressed, shower, eat and everything.”
When Griffin goes out, it’s usually to visit a doctor. On weekends, he attends Prayer and Praise Church in Liberty City, where he operates the sanctuary sound system.
“My story is that no matter what somebody tells you, whatever you go for, you have to go all out,” he says.
He tried to enroll at Miami Dade College, but a professor there told him he could not take the audio engineering class because it’s a hands-on program and it didn’t make sense because he was disabled.
“He said it because I was disabled and it didn’t make any sense for me to take the class.”
Griffin found another way to get audio training.
“I was able to get it done at my church. I didn’t want it to be an obstacle. I didn’t want somebody to say I couldn’t do something and I was just going to be like a nothing.”
Puig, the social worker, has great respect for Griffin. “He’s able to accept his condition and his health issues, and I give him a lot of credit for that,” she says.
Says Griffin: “I pretty much have the mindset that whatever it is, if I try and try, I’m going to get through it. I want to force myself to do it. You have to, no matter what people tell you, have to be persistent. You have to try. I don’t want to be a failure,” he says. “I don’t want somebody to say, hey, he pretty much quit on himself. I’m not a quitter.”