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Valpo woman’s fall into hole latest thing that won’t stop her

Grace Wilspauses during lunch her Valparaiso home Wednesday April 10 2013. Wils65 fell inconstructiditch near Five Points roundabout project while

Grace Wilson pauses during lunch at her Valparaiso home Wednesday April 10, 2013. Wilson, 65, fell into a construction ditch near the Five Points roundabout project while riding in her battery-powered wheelchair Saturday March 30, 2013. She estimates being in the ditch, under the heavy chair, for nearly an hour before a passerby heard her calls for help. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 21, 2013 6:03AM



VALPARAISO — Grace Wilson is ready for when people ask her about her fall into a hole.

The 65-year-old Valparaiso woman, who spent at least an hour in a hole pinned under her motorized wheelchair, tells them it was an experiment. Were it not for the gleam in her eyes, one would likely think she was telling the truth.

“I say I wanted to see what Hell looked like so now, I never have to go back,” she deadpanned.

After spending four days in the hospital, Wilson is comfortable at home and except for some residual bruising to her elbow, shows no visible signs of her ordeal. But she remembers the accident.

She was heading down the sidewalk in the 1300 block of Vale Park Road, where the new roundabout is being constructed, when she saw orange silt fencing lying on the ground. Thinking it was just something flat, Wilson slowed down her chair to cross over it.

She didn’t see that the fencing was covering a construction hole made by Infrasource, a company hired by NIPSCO to relocate utilities in the construction zone. The fall was terrifyingly quick.

She remembers the man from Soft Touch Car Wash who held her hand while they waited for help and how kind he was. And she remembers telling the emergency workers that she really wanted to go home.

“I was full of mud and I got upset,” she said.

That she escaped with little injury somewhat surprises her family because of the accident’s nature and the weight of the wheelchair, estimated between 100 and 200 pounds. Her pluck and will to survive, however, surprises no one.

Wilson has cerebellar ataxia, a condition similar to multiple sclerosis in that it affects muscle coordination. Wilson’s type of ataxia is hereditary; her older sister by four years, Beverly Jane, was diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia when she was very young and died young — at 39 — as well, Wilson said.

Her own condition came on her when she was 13.

“I was mad when I found out,” she said. “In high school, kids would always ask if I’d been drinking.”

But ataxia never stopped her from living her life. She had three sons, who in turn gave her nine grandkids and now she has four great-grandkids. And she refuses to be dependent on anyone, said her nephew, Randy Shirey, who now lives in South Carolina.

“They wanted to put her in a nursing home decades ago, and she fought it because she knew the moment she lost the independence, she’d die like Bev,” he said.

Wilson’s independence never ceases to amaze Shirey.

“To be told at 13 you are going to slowly and cruelly lose control of your muscles, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, is sheer hell,” Shirey said. “Then have your older sister waste away of the same disease in front of your eyes — so you are mocked by exactly what is going to happen to you — I would have fallen like a house of cards.”

NIPSCO spokeswoman Kathleen Szot said she’s aware of an active claim regarding the accident but said Infrasource was handling it. An Infrasource representative could not be contacted by press time.



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