His Body a Prison

His Body a Prison

Former nurse Spencer Sullivan copes with life after a tragic medical error left him a quadriplegic. (LAT)

It is difficult to listen to the anguish in Carol Sullivan’s voice as she talks about her son Spencer’s life as a mentally diminished quadriplegic. Spencer, 48, was given an overdose of pain medications after neck surgery, and went into a coma that resulted in irreversible damage. He now requires round-the clock care. Although Spencer admits he’s angry, he seems sadly resigned to his fate. “Ya just gotta live with it,” he says.

This Pictures of the Year International award-winning audio slideshow from the L.A. Times follows Spencer, his parents who moved from Atlanta to southern California to help, and Jimmy, his caregiver, through typical daily activities. Every action requires a multitude of devices and physical skills to manipulate the large man, whose limbs are now contorted from lack of use. Photojournalist Liz Baylen puts the viewer in every scene, using a variety of creative camera angles and points-of-view. We are underwater with Spencer’s pool exercises, directly overhead when his dog’s head is on his lap, and looking through his fish tank as he watches television in a standing device.

The audio in this piece is especially moving, as we hear incredibly personal remarks from his mom and dad, as well as soft-spoken Spencer himself, who misses “everything in life.”

This won the Pictures of the Year International’s third-place award in the category “Issue Reporting Story – Multimedia.”

CHANNEL: Los Angeles Times

Length: 4:44

Photography and audio by Liz O. Baylen

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