A dozen years ago, Tami Wightman heard the screams and saw her son, Casey Marino, running across the field to the family’s home. He wasn’t screaming in exuberance at the joy of being 13 years old. He had just lost most of the fingers on his right hand in a wheel line gear sprocket and chain that started operating unexpectedly.
The next steps were a blur, the rush to the hospital, the agonizing four-hour wait to find a hospital with with a hand surgeon on duty for the weekend. It also happened to be the Chief Joseph Days weekend.They eventually found a specialist in Spokane.
“They were calling Portland, Seattle, Boise, Salt Lake, Las Vegas,” Wightman said.
Fingers are notoriously difficult to re-attach successfully, and only his index finger showed promise of recovery. The hospital even went so far as to try leech therapy (yes, those kind of leeches) and an 80-degree room only to have to later remove the finger due to a lack of circulation.
A dozen years later, Marino is doing well. He stands straight up at 5 feet 11 inches and his gaze is clear with his handshake firm. He shakes with his right hand and one hardly notices a difference. He is relentlessly positive (in a good way), and it’s easy to tell after a few minutes that nothing gets him down for long.
You can’t call him recovered, because he didn’t venture very far down the path of self-pity or self-recrimination.
He doesn’t consider himself handicapped or disabled.
Marino said he stayed in the children’s cancer ward while at the hospital, which helped give him perspective on his injury.
“I said, ‘I’m just missing a few fingers; I’ll be out of here eventually’,” he said.
After he returned from the hospital, Marino went through a certain amount of physical therapy.
According to Marino, one of the toughest day-to-day obstacles he faced after the accident was learning to tie his shoes.
“It wasn’t a difficult thing or hard to do,” he said. “It was really time consuming. I still can, but I prefer my slip-ons.” He added that learning to write with his left hand took about six months of intensive practice.
“Now it’s better than it was prior,” he said with a laugh.
Wightman noted that the community helped in a huge way after the accident.
“Thank God we live in Wallowa County,” she said. “Everyone in Wallowa County says that they help their own, and they truly do.”
A trumpet player at the time, the Wallowa Valley Music Alliance paid to convert his trumpet to a left-handed instrument. He subsequently learned to play tuba, drums, guitar and bass. He also plays “Taps” on the bugle for VFW occasions when asked.
Not long after his return, Marino started working with irrigation hand lines.
The rest of his school career seemed relatively uneventful, and upon graduation, Marino entered Bates Technical College in Tacoma, Wash., where he studied broadcasting. He had hosted a radio show while in high school.
After two terms he transferred to Eastern Oregon University in La Grande to study broadcasting and music but later decided it wasn’t what he wanted to do and traveled to Washington to look for work without much success.
Marino returned and went to work for Olive Branch Pharmacy and fell in love with being a pharmacy technician. He went back to school in Tacoma and obtained qualifications to become as close to being a pharmacist as possible without the additional agonizing six years of school.
He still records all the Olive Branch Pharmacy commercials for KWVR.
Marino isn’t uncomfortable talking about the accident or even showing his hand. He has a prosthetic that he seldom wears because he’s gotten so adept at grabbing things. He also goes to local school classes to address students. In one case, on inventions, he brought the prosthetic.
Although Marino loves his Olive Branch job, he still has other avenues he’d like to explore, including finishing up pharmacy school, take more music classes and possibly making a foray back into music. Not as a musician, though.
“I enjoy performing and playing music, but that’s not where the money is,” he said.
Despite the accident, Marino doesn’t let the injury define who he is. He can even find positive aspects about the accident.
“There’s a lot of people talk about things they can’t do,” he said. “Can’t is used a lot in a lot of places where it should be “won’t.”
He also said he sees a lot of people exhibiting a lack of civility because they won’t make the effort to be polite, while he sees people far worse off than himself acting nicer than he can imagine.
The biggest lesson he’s learned in the aftermath of the accident is simple:
“There’s no greater joy than in doing what others say you cannot.” Marino said that the only things he hasn’t learned to do is shuffle cards and use chopsticks.
Wightman said she’s never seen her son display a negative attitude and that his sense humor, including his ability to laugh at himself, keeps him in a good frame of mind.
“It’s hard to be mean or nasty or vindictive toward somebody when I know that people have had the chance to do that with me — and haven’t.”
Marino shared some advice he’s learned along the way for others facing adversity.
“If I let it get to me, the accident wins,” Marino said. “Then I’m just another accident prone ‘woe-is-me’ person, and that’s not who I want to be.”