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Despite paralysis, Dennis Southworth found reasons for hope

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Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:03 pm | Updated: 2:02 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

Dennis Southworth, who not long ago said he wanted to have a birthday party every month, has died at 61, just before his third monthly birthday party. He was a geologist, a baseball fan, a intelligent man and someone who managed to keep a positive attitude when others would have abandoned hope.

Whenever I feel the urge to whine about a little problem, I think of Dennis. I'm not about to forget him.

Here is what I wrote after meeting him in 2008:

He can hardly move a muscle, but geologist Dennis Southworth has strength of character.

I met him the other day at Denali Center after his friend Kathy Carrico called me about a crazy idea she has. Dennis doesn't think it's crazy. Neither do I.

He is a dedicated baseball fan. If there is a game on TV, he'll watch it. If not, he'll watch "The Natural" or "Field of Dreams" or some other tale about the national pastime from his baseball library of DVDs and tapes.

He follows the Cubs, the Braves, the Mariners and other teams, but he is not a member of the George Steinbrenner fan club, so that leaves one team out.

He came to Alaska in 1976 and earned a master's degree in geology from UAF. His thesis, a bound copy of which he has in his room, is a study of the "Geology of the Goodnews Bay Ultramafic Complex." He worked for the U.S. Bureau of Mines for 19 years and covered a lot of ground.

About 15 years ago he began having trouble walking — the onset of multiple sclerosis. The disease has gradually stripped him of his ability to move. He can still whisper a bit and move his head.

His mind and his sense of humor are sharp, however, and he wanted to know all about my job. He nodded yes under his Cubs hat when I asked him if he enjoys life.

In an account he dictated some time ago when communication was easier, he said he has had bouts with depression, but he was doing great.

"To find peace, I use creative visualization to go to my 'happy place' in my mind," he said.

Kathy met Dennis years ago through her work at a dental office. After introductions, he asked her how many holes she had in her head. She thought he was referring to her earrings, so she said six.

"That doesn't include the one between your ears," he said.

Their friendship has been strong ever since.

To put it simply, Kathy's crazy idea is this: Is there any way to get Dennis to Seattle to see the Mariners play?

I told her I don't know if writing about this will help, but perhaps someone in a position to do something will read aboutDennis' love of the game and be motivated to help make this dream a reality.

His doctor says the trip is OK and a nurse would accompany him to Seattle.

The transportation problem stems from his inability to sit in an airline seat.

He has to sit in a special wheelchair that supports his legs, back and head.

Dennis is 56 and he hasn't been to a professional game for a long time. As a kid in Los Angeles, he saw the Dodgers play, but whether he sees another game will be up to others.

******

Thanks to Kathy and about 50 other people in Fairbanks who donated air miles or provided other help, Dennis got his wish. He saw the Mariners play the Yankees on an August afternoon in Seattle in 2009. Because he could not sit up in an airline seat, they needed to reserve eight spots on the plane.

Two nurses and Carrico made the trip with him. He had a wonderful time. He got a ball, jersey and the Mariners flashed a message on the scoreboard. The Yankees lost 10-3, which he considered a plus. It wasn't a crazy idea. It was a great idea.

 

 

 

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