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Published: Saturday, 6/9/2007

Paralyzed man sees son graduate at special Northview commencement ceremony


Steve Ruane of Sylvania couldn t tell his son, James, how proud he was.

James didn t need words. He already knew.

The Northview High School senior s father was badly injured in a bicycle accident about five weeks ago. He is permanently paralyzed from the neck down, except that he can use his arms. He breathes with the help of a ventilator and can t speak.

Because of his condition, Steve Ruane won t be able to attend James graduation ceremony tomorrow afternoon in the Stranahan Theater.

But he was able to watch his only child graduate from high school during a special ceremony that took place yesterday evening at the Arbors of Sylvania Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, 7120 Port Sylvania Dr., off West Central Avenue.

I will never forget it, Steve wrote on a piece of notebook paper following yesterday s ceremony.

And neither will James.

He appreciates life a little more as a result of the tragedy.

It gives you a sense of wanting to make sure people are safe, James said though he may put his own life at risk to pursue that ideal.

Joining the U.S. Marine Corps is something James said he s thought about since he was 3 years old.

Northview High School officials, including principal Stewart Jesse, right, set up the special ceremony for James Ruane, 18, who is scheduled to graduate tomorrow afternoon in the Stranahan Theater. Northview High School officials, including principal Stewart Jesse, right, set up the special ceremony for James Ruane, 18, who is scheduled to graduate tomorrow afternoon in the Stranahan Theater.
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After his father s accident, he didn t have any doubt in his mind.

The 18-year-old realizes he couldn t have prevented his father s accident, but he wants to try to protect those he loves through military service.

He will leave June 27 for boot camp in Parris Island, S.C.

It s given me that extra push, he said yesterday, wearing his black graduation gown. It has given me the drive to go to the Marines and not think about it twice.

Dawn Ruane said her husband communicated to her through a written message a few days ago that he was excited about the ceremony, but asked why school officials organized it.

You need to see your son graduate, she told him. You don t have another chance.

Mrs. Ruane could tell that her husband was humbled by the experience yesterday. He calls her his hero.

As James moved his black and gold tassel from the right side of his graduation cap to the left the final step in becoming a high school graduate his mother s eyes welled up with tears.

The two hugged, leaned in toward one another, and locked eyes.

Mrs. Ruane thought about how proud she was of her son. Here s a young man who can do anything he wants to do and he chooses to defend our country, she said.

She said that Steve s accident has changed not only his own life forever, but the lives of the entire family.

James doesn t think he s an invincible teenager. His mother knows life can change in an instant.

Cherish the people you love, she said. There s nothing guaranteeing they ll be there the next minute.

Mrs. Ruane knew it was important to tell her husband and her son that she loved them.

She did it every time they walked out the door.

And there was nothing different about the night Steve went out for a bike ride, something he did all the time.

I told him that I loved him, Mrs. Ruane said.

He turned around, kissed her on the forehead, and said, I love you, princess. I ll be home in two hours, she recalled.

Those are the last words her husband spoke to her.

But not forever.

Steve will spend the next two weeks at Arbors and will then move to another rehabilitation center to work on recovering his speech and strengthening his arms.

Doctors expect him to go home around Christmas, she said, and he is expected to return to work eventually as a computer programmer.

We don t realize what we have until it s almost gone, Mrs. Ruane said.

In the blink of an eye life changes.

Contact Laren Weber at: lweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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