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Colfax man slowly rebuilds life after traumatic injury

By: Dori Barrett, Gold Country News Service
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COLFAX — His weekdays are typical. He wakes up, goes to the gym, then gets ready for work. In fact, his days are mostly predictable. But any kind of predictability in Mark Anderson’s life is what his mother, Connie Warren-Anderson, needs. His daily routine brings a peace to lives that had been filled with pain, sorrow and uncertainty. Until two years ago, Connie didn’t have to worry about her son much. The youngest of three children, Mark, 23, had a good job and owned a home in Reno, Nev. Always independent and driven, Mark joined the Auburn Jeep Club in 2001and spent weekends either on Jeep excursions or working on his trucks. But on Feb. 3, 2006, Warren-Anderson received the call every mother dreads. While on a trip to Mexico with his buddies, Mark was flipped out of the back of a Ranger, and cracked his head open when it hit the cobblestone road. “There was a lack of cooperation from the start. They didn’t perform that much critical surgery on him for over 25 hours,” she recalled. “The hospital staff was so insensitive and the doctors kept telling me not to get my hopes up, that he probably wouldn’t make it.” But Anderson did make it and Warren-Anderson’s life was flipped around when her son was returned to the states. No longer the mother of an adult, Warren-Anderson felt like she was caring for a small child. She became his nurse, his teacher, his voice. Multiple doctors suggested she place Mark either in a psychiatric ward or a nursing home. More than once she heard from professionals he would “be like that the rest of his life.” However, she refused to give up on him. After five months, she saw the first ray of hope. The head of neurosurgery at the Reno hospital where Mark had been taken arranged to send him to the Center for Neuro Skills in Bakersfield. Finally, Warren-Anderson felt someone was listening to her. Mark’s grandmother, Lorene Warren, rented an apartment and moved to Bakersfield to be close to him. “I couldn’t have done this without my mother. Her being there made all of the difference. I don’t believe he would’ve recovered as well if she wasn’t with him,” Warren-Anderson said. “Amazingly, in October, nine months after the accident, he just woke up. It was like the lights came on.” Eventually Anderson was able to move back to Colfax with his mother. But after a few months, Warren-Anderson noticed he son was bored and physically inactive. She began to search for a place where he could volunteer, but businesses were wary. A friend led her to Lori Garcia, co-manager of the Hospice Gift & Thrift Store in Colfax. “The staff was very open minded and he really took to it,” Warren-Anderson recalled Garcia recalls the first month. “He was so shy and not sure what to do. He stayed in the back room and rarely ventured out into the front with the customers.” As he became more confident, Mark started taking more initiative. “Now, I just tell him what I want and he just gets it done. He’s very mechanically inclined and I depend on that,” Garcia said. Warren-Anderson says she can’t begin to describe how much the staff and volunteers at the thrift store have helped her son. “They create tasks for him to develop his fine motor skills,” she said. “They help him with his speech and they make him feel useful. But most important, they treat him like anyone else. Lori jokes around with him and he dishes it right back.” Garcia and her business partner, Cynthia Beard, look forward to continue working with Anderson. They are re-opening the former hospice thrift store at 255 Highway 174 this month as Community Gift & Thrift. “I’ll keep working at the thrift store. They’re good to me there,” Mark said. Then he pauses, repositions his white cowboy hat and adds that he would also like to restore his ’61 Chevy truck. “I want it to run again,” he said. “It would have been done by now if it wasn’t for the accident. I want to take it down to the bare metal, take the cab off and sand the frame. Start over.” Anderson is no stranger to starting over. The accident may have changed his future, but it won’t define it.