August 2, 2012

Show Must Go On For Local Actor Despite Horrific Accident

Brooke Wineinger and Joe Fulk portray a tag-team of investigative reporters on the scent of a story in Drinking Habits.

The show must go on. For long-time Memphis Community Players member Joe Fulk, that saying rings true. Fulk will take the stage next week as one of the main characters in the MCP production of Drinking Habits.

Six months ago it was anyone's guess if Fulk would ever walk again, let alone be able to take another curtain call at the Memphis Theatre. Joe was seriously injured in a four-car accident in Knox County on January 17th that resulted in the death of a Kirksville motorist.

Fulk's car was struck head on by a vehicle that crossed the center line after colliding with another vehicle stopping to make a turn. The impact left Joe trapped in his vehicle. He was flown from the scene by helicopter after rescue workers used the Jaws of Life to extricate him from his mangled vehicle.

For the next four weeks, University Hospital in Columbia was Joe's new home. The crash had left him a broken left leg. The knee cap on his left leg was broken in several places, and the knee ligaments were also damaged. He broke his left shin. What proved to be the most difficult injuries, were his heals. He suffered multiple fractures in both feet, meaning it would be more than three months before his feet would touch the ground again.

Joe went through three surgeries in the week following the crash. Finally in late February, he was sent back to Memphis, staying at the Scotland County Hospital for a week before finally being able to go home under the care of his wife, Lori.

Fulk returned to Columbia for a week in March for knee surgery before heading south again in April, when he spent a week at Ruske Rehabilitation center.

For 12 weeks his injuries limited him to bed rest and occasional travel via wheel chair. As non-weight bearing injuries, Joe went more than three months without using his feet.

"Basically I had to learn to walk all over again," Joe said. "I was shocked. It is really difficult to comprehend that something we take for granted, like walking, can be forgotten by our bodies. When the time came for my rehab, I just couldn't believe that I was unable to simply pick up where I had left off. I couldn't walk."

Over time, Joe graduated from the use of a walker, to utilizing a cane.

"I've pretty much put the cane away now," Joe said. "Unless I know I'm going to be on unsteady ground or walking longer distances, then I'll get it back out for the day."

Fulk credits his quick recovery to the support of family and friends as well as the rehab staff at the hospitals.

"I'm still doing physical therapy twice a week, continuing to build up the strength and endurance," Joe said. "It's been a difficult road, but the therapy department has been extremely instrumental in my recovery. They know how to provide the right amount of encouragement and how to administer tough love, when it's necessary. The girls let me know that if I wasn't going to work through the pain, then I wasn't going to get better. They pushed me when I needed it most. I don't think I would have made it without them."

Joe Fulk is pictured with physical therapist Jennifer McMinn during Joe's rehab following his traffic accident.

That mentality has carried over to Joe's participation in next week's Community Players Production. After participating in many of the group's performances over the past 25 years, Fulk didn't want to let his injuries prevent him from being a part of this summer's play.

"I really wanted to push myself," Fulk said. "After being away from everything for several months, I was anxious to get back to my normal life. Plus I wanted to see if I could do it. Not only did I want to see if I could do it physically, but also the mental challenge of being able to manage it all while memorizing lines and all the aspects of portraying a character in a play."

This year's production, Drinking Habits, has been perfect for the recovery story. Joe's character, Paul, an investigative reporter, does not have a lot of scene changes, and when on stage for any lengths of time, generally is seated.

"That's been key for me, Joe said. "Right now it is still pretty painful to stand for any great lengths of time. My character is able to sit during a lot of the onstage time, so it's been a perfect role."

Regardless if the character is on his feet or not, producers indicated Fulk's portrayal of his characters is sure to create plenty of laughs for the audience.

"I'm really looking forward to opening night," Joe said. "But just being back with my friends for rehearsals has helped me prove to myself that I can still do it. I was pretty isolated those first few months after the accident. Some of these folks contacted me every day. Their support is a big part of me being able to be on stage again."

Community Players to Take the Stage August 2nd - 4th

The Memphis Community Players' production of the award-winning play Drinking Habits by Tom Smith will entertain theater-goers with "laugh-out-loud" farcical twists and turns as the eight actors come and go out of the five doors of the convent which is home to the Sisters of Perpetual Sewing. The production will be held August 2, 3, and 4, at 7:30 at the Memphis Theatre.

Secrets, spies, and romances keep the story moving as the nuns try to keep their enterprise secret from the Mother Superior, and newspaper reporters try to find out who has won the half-million dollar prize. Cast members include Teresa Cotton, Jeff and Lynnette Dyer, Joe and Lori Fulk, George Koontz, Angela Westhoff, and Brooke Wineinger. Sheila Berkowitz is directing the performance.

Tickets for the performance are $8.00. The Theatre Box Office is open weekdays from 1:00-4:00 p.m. For further information call the Theatre at 660 465-2277.

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