A World Away from the World

Darnell Thompson doesn’t feel any different than anyone else. It’s the world around him that makes him feel different. The world around him judges him because he’s in a wheelchair.

“People like to judge a book by its cover,” said Thompson. “I don’t feel no different than I did when I was walking.”

I spent several hours with Thompson over the last three weeks, getting to know the man I had seen just feet from my doorstep many times since moving to the Pennsylvania avenue southeast area of Washington, D.C. Darnell is a man struggling with the lingering effects of an abusive childhood in foster care, homelessness, and battles with depression and anger. Yet he never seems to struggle with his life in a wheelchair.

Thompson grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, bouncing from foster home to foster home from the age of nine. At 18, he lost his legs. When I met Darnell, while photographing him in the Electric Zoo Tattoo shop, he told me had lost his legs in a car accident.

After getting to know Darnell over the course of several interviews, he revealed the true story of how he lost his legs.

“It was an overdose of anti-depressants and other drugs,” said Thompson. “I was in a coma for 10 days and when I woke up, I had to sign something to allow them to amputate my legs.”

I struggled with how that could possibly happen. Thompson explained that he was told he had lost consciousness while curled up with his legs to his chest. While unconscious, the drugs prevented blood from flowing to his legs. He says the doctors told him that there was a chemical reaction in his legs, which required them to amputate.

Today, Thompson finds solace in wheelchair basketball. Thompson began playing 11 years ago when someone at the National Rehabilitation Hospital introduced him to the sport while he was recovering from his amputation. He is a natural.

Thompson travels between 40 and 50 miles a day around Washington, D.C. That exercise makes him the most impressive athlete on his team, the National Rehabilitation Hospital Ambassadors.

Despite the “world away from the world” he finds in basketball, the moments of glory and excitement are fleeting.

“Darnell’s had a rough life and sometimes he wears that on his shoulders,” said Lisa Leach, Thompson’s coach with the National Rehabilitation Hospital Ambassadors.

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