Mark Birdsell was on his way to an afternoon class at the University of Baltimore. He was in his car, stopped at an intersection in Bolton Hill, when an escaping robber ran up and ordered him out of the car. The man, intent on stealing a getaway car, shot Birdsell in the neck when he was slow in obeying the command to get out.
That was in November. Today, Birdsell, 29, remains in the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, totally paralyzed, unable even to talk. He can communicate only by blinking his eyes.
"His brain is unplugged from his body," said Bryan Kocsis, UB's director of audio-visual services, for whom Birdsell was working part time. "It's hellish for him."
In an attempt to defray Birdsell's medical expenses, a benefit wheelchair basketball game will be staged tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the UB gym matching the Baltimore Wheelchair Athletic Club against the Richmond Rimriders. Admission to the game is $2, with all proceeds going to the Mark Birdsell Fund.
"We hope to bring Mark's plight to people's attention and spur them to send money to UB earmarked for his fund," said Mike Naugle, a program coordinator with the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks that helps sponsor local wheelchair basketball teams.
"Mike Hylton, a student at UB, also is on the wheelchair basketball team. We thought holding a benefit for Mark at UB would be a positive tie-in."
Birdsell, according to Kocsis, was outgoing, creative and promising in the audio-visual field. An English major who aspired to be a writer, Birdsell also was working and studying under Kocsis with the idea of eventually supplementing his income.
"All that potential has been snuffed out," Kocsis said. "He'll have to start over with limited abilities. Like most college students, he was underinsured and overextended. His parents are both ill, so they're unable to lend much support. His brother Dave is a speech therapy teacher in upstate New York who's trying to help much as he can."
As usual, the Baltimore Wheelchair AC is among the nation's elite, ranked No. 18 with a 9-0 record among the approximately 150 teams in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Richmond doesn't appear in the top 25.
The Wheelchair AC is led by double leg amputee Jim Leatherman, 31, and Keith Lewis, 33, a Harford County contractor who lost the use of both legs in a work-related accident. Both men played for the U.S. team that won a gold medal in the World Wheelchair Basketball Games in 1987 in England.
"This is not your typical recreation basketball," Naugle said. "They play 35 to 40 games a season. Their lives revolve around the sport."