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January 22nd 1998




Jayne Fortson
Article by Margaret Baumanr

Jayne was a sophomore at the State University of New York in Albany when she was injured in a caving accident with five other friends. The group was caught in a landslide of rocks and ice. Jayne's left arm was broken and her spinal cord crushed. She was left paralyzed from the chest down.

"When I look back on it, I could do one of two things," she once told an interviewer at Loma Linda University, near Palm Springs, California, where Jayne did an internship and residency. "I could let it get me down, or go on living."

Jayne spent six months in rehabilitation, then returned to graduate with her class in 1977. By the time she graduated in 1981 from Northwestern University Medical School, she was an accomplished wheelchair athlete, whose events included competing as a member of the USA Wheelchair Sports Team in the Stoke-Mandeville Games in England, and as an individual in the Boston Marathon.

After graduation, she spent eight months at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago designing a wheelchair sports program for newly injured people to channel their energy into. "I felt wheelchair sports had done a lot for me physically and emotionally ... in a lot of ways. I wanted to give a little bit of that back," she said. Then Jayne headed for Loma Linda University Medical Center, followed by another residency and research in dermatology at the University of Utah. It was during her residency training in Salt Lake City that she met Blanton, an intensive care nurse in the Latter Day Saints Hospital.

"We had a common interest in running," she said. "I was doing a lot of wheelchair running. Blanton did long distance running. I was his running partner. That was the fall of 1984. They were married the following summer. A honeymoon spent kayaking in Glacier Bay in 1985 convinced Jayne and Blanton that Alaska would be a good place to establish her medical practice.

So after completing a three year residency in dermatology in Dayton, Ohio, and a fellowship in dermatopathology in Philadelphia, the Blantons and their infant son, Ben, made their big move North. They arrived Dec. 14, 1990 and on Jan. 15, 1991, Jayne opened her office for what is now a thriving practice, with Blanton as office manager. She sees on the average of 100-120 patients each week. Winter brings a lot more patients with dry skin problems from all over Alaska, who are in Anchorage to do their holiday shopping, she said.

But the Blantons, whose daughter Leah was born July 6, also finds time for cross country skiing, swimming and other activities with their children. "I've always loved athletics," Jayne said. "After my accident I rechanneled my energy."

Since their move to Alaska, Jayne has given up competitive racing, to concentrate on her family and medical practice. She donated a lot of her wheelchair racing equipment to Challenge Alaska. Blanton meanwhile has also taken up commercial fishing.

Anchorage has done a lot in terms of putting in handicapped parking and accessible bathrooms, but on the flip side, we have the Center for the Performing Arts (which does not have full wheelchair access), she said. But the Fortsons find time for cross country skiing, swimming and bicycling, the last with Jayne using a hand powered bicycle. And come the spring of 1995, Jayne said, she hopes to buy a hand-powered hiking chair with wheels, designed by her friend Jesse Owens, to go hiking in the hills with her family.

How does she do it all, even with plenty of support from Blanton?

A good diet and plenty of exercise are important," said Jayne, as she nursed Leah during a lunch break at her
office. "I've always been very concerned about health!"

From Alaska People Magazine
Holiday Issue 1994/1995

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