In the News

Plain Dealer 12/19/08


Mr. Fix-it series strikes a chord with another amputee

Friday, December 19, 2008

Regina Brett – Plain Dealer Columnist

For the longest time Ralph Colon felt like half a man. Four years ago, he lost his hand in a work accident. When a guy like Ralph loses a hand, he loses so much more than five fingers.

Ralph spoke to me after he read the powerful Plain Dealer series by Diane Suchetka and Gus Chan about Norman Martin, who lost both arms in an industrial accident. (The series is at

Ralph, who is 52 and lives in Seven Hills, said the series brought back that day in August 2004. He told me about the mountain he climbed and offered a view from the other side. Ralph had worked at Cardinal Fasteners and Specialties in Bedford for 28 years. He was adjusting the forging machine where he made bolts _big ones, the kind that weigh up to 89 pounds.

Ralph had to make a quick adjustment. When he reached his hand in, someone accidentally stepped on a pedal that released a clutch. He yanked his arm out, but too late. The machine crushed his left hand. Blood spilled everywhere. His first thought was, “It’s over. I don’t have a hand anymore.” A medical helicopter rushed him to MetroHealth Medical Center. All of his fingers were dead. Doctors tried to save his thumb but couldn’t.

That first year?

“I had a terrible way to go,” Ralph said. The amputation struck to the heart of what it meant to be a man. One thought kept taunting him: What good am I anymore? He was never the type to see a therapist, never one to take even an aspirin. But if not for therapists and antidepressants, he’d be dead. “I would have Sh01 myself,” he told me. Ralph always worked with his hands. The brakes on his car, electrical work in the house, the plumbing. He loved hard work.

An attorney suggested he live on Social Security disability. Ralph has to work to be whole. In time, he started up his own trucking delivery business, R.L.C. Star Services. R for Ralph, L for Luana, his wife of 20 years, C for Colon. And Star because when he looks in Luana’s eyes, “it’s like there’s a star that’s wrapped around the blue,” he said. She held on to him those times when he nearly slipped away from the grief of it all.

Today, Ralph wears a bionic hand. He can pick up a pop can, but sometimes the hand opens and closes against his will.

Most days he’s grateful just to be alive. Some days are still hard. “I have my days,” he said. “Some days now and then I feel worthless.” On those days, he sits next to his aquarium and watches his fish swim until the bad thoughts float away. For a while he was mad at God. Not anymore. “I was always looking for a challenge. I guess the Lord gave me one,” he laughed. He can finally shoot pool again, ride his motorcycle and drive a truck. “It’s too easy to give up. Too easy,” he said. “You find a way to make things happen. It might take 10 times. It just takes me longer to do what I want to do.” For Norman he offered this: “Stay strong. Don’t be afraid to start doing things with what you’ve got.” Good advice for all of us. Join Regina Brett at 9 a.m. on WCPN FM/90.3. She hosts “The Sound of Ideas” every Friday. Today’s topic: Books to share. To reach Regina Brett: