Musician and Paraplegic Frank Barham’s Life Changing Accident

Frank Barham was very active before his injury, but he continues to do what he loves over 30 years later.

Frank Barham was very active before his injury, but he continues to do what he loves over 30 years later.

Editor’s Note: 56 year-old Frank Barham, of Atlanta, is living his dream. He has a deep understanding of what a musician is. He is passionate about learning and playing great music– a true musician never stops learning. He knows that jazz is a never ending journey of trying to become better and expressing his view of the world through the music he plays. Part 2 of a 5 part series.

My life before spinal cord injury was extremely active. After college I was an active 24 year old, I’d been in sales, and I’d just left one company and was looking for another job in sales when the accident happened.

I’m not very proud of how I became injured. I was driving home from a party and had been drinking. I didn’t stop for a policeman that had been following me. I lost control of my car. It flipped over, I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, I broke quite a few bones in my upper body, and broke my back at L1 and L2 from compression fractures. The first thing I remember after the accident was waking up in the emergency room, and the doctor saying to me, “This is really going to hurt.” The doctor then pushed a tube into my chest to re-inflate my collapsed lung. One of my broken ribs had punctured my lung, I also had a broken collarbone, a broken wrist and broken ribs. I’m not really sure what else was broken, since the accident occurred so long ago. I’ve tried to forget about it.

I remember the doctors came into my room and poked my legs with a pin. I had no feeling in my legs and was told I’d never be able to walk again. I was totally devastated. To be honest, I really wasn’t interested in living. I felt I’d had a great life before the accident, and I was ready to die, rather than never be able to walk again. I was very active before my injury, so this was difficult news.

I had always loved playing basketball, but this was a new life. Basketball didn’t derive the same feelings of joy as it used to. I turned to music to re-capture my joy. I’d always really been a fan of the blues and decided I wanted to learn how to play the harmonica. Then perhaps I could make life interesting enough to continue. I had many things to learn about my new life when I was in rehab. I had to learn how to dress myself, get in and out of the wheelchair and operate it. The rehab hospital I went to wasn’t very progressive at all, and it certainly wasn’t on the level of the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. I didn’t learn anything about how to deal with the outside world, but that was a long time ago. Many times I wanted to give up, but because of my competitive nature, something inside of me wouldn’t let me quit. Between the overwhelming pain and depression and going from being able bodied to having to deal with a spinal cord injury and using a wheelchair, I found moments of joy in my music.

Frank Barham finds great joy in music.

Frank Barham finds great joy in music.

I went from being a member of the majority demographic of the United States to a minority. Also, as an able bodied person, I was protected by EEO and complete access to all facilities. As a person with a disability, I was not protected by EEO at that time and had limited access. One of the best things that happened to me during this time was also one of the worst things that happened to me. I got really angry, but I used that as motivation to persevere. I was mad at myself for making the stupid choice that put myself in. I was frustrated by the lack of options after my accident and how the world treated me differently.  

I was able to transform these feelings into determination, by taking the attitude of, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let this accident beat me.” I used the anger to keep me going when I really had no desire. I also used my anger to keep society from pushing me into a corner, because I wasn’t like everyone else. I demanded that other people treat me like a man, whether I was standing up or sitting down and I wanted nothing less than equal rights. While I was able to use this frustration as a positive force, it eventually became a problem because I was not seeing the beauty in life. To be honest, I still have to deal with my frustration, but I remind myself daily how truly fortunate I am.

Next: Musician And Paraplegic Frank Barham’s New Life

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at

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One Response to Musician and Paraplegic Frank Barham’s Life Changing Accident

  1. I’ve just watched Frank Barham and the EC3 perform on YouTube and may I say what an excellent jazz sound indeed. Cool, hip, and melodic to the ‘nth degree! I hope to gear more!!

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