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When Gioacchino John Greico, known as Jack, was 14, from the heights of his high spirits, he and a younger brother were walking home one day after playing pinball. A drunk driver ran into them, and a few miles away, his family heard ambulances.
He never walked again. In the 1970’s, the state had nothing to offer in the way of service for a quadriplegic, and recommended institutionalization. Instead, his parents Electa and Joseph brought him back home and learned the most literal ways of caring for him.
Jack finished high school—no easy feat in a system without ramps—and some college. Using tools Velcro'd to his wrist, he learned to eat, to shave, to smoke, and to guide the vacuum cleaner helpfully around his mother’s house.
He also learned to drive. At night he roamed free, a fearless Boston driver in a partially-equipped van, using the sidewalks for brakes. His mother waited up, and when he returned at 3 am, she would lift him back into his wheelchair.
In 1979, Jack joined the Boston Center for Independent Living and eventually became Housing Services Coordinator. He knew how to reach every landlord, apartment complex manager and caretaker in the area, and made thousands of advocacy calls for disabled clients needing help to live on their own. They needed advice, too: how to care for bedsores, or work a cigarette lighter. No need was too small. He understood.
For 30 independent years, Jack held a ferocious poker night with a crew of BCIL friends. Two nights before he died, he wanted to play. The family set the table by his bed; the crew arrived. He drifted in and out of sleep, surrounded by so many who loved him, while his mother played his hands. “Bet $25,” he’d say, opening his eyes every once in a while.
Jack Greico died in May in his own apartment, not from quadriplegia, but from cancer. He was 55 years old. Before his death, there were two celebrations of his life. He attended them both.
Did you know Jack Greico? Share your memories in the comments section.
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