Peter Dames gives new meaning to the term “road trip.”
He has driven his specially equipped Land Rover SUV to the northernmost point of North America – Prudhoe Bay, Alaska – to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, at the southern tip of South America, and he has also driven the rugged terrain of Central America and Mexico – a total of about 22,000 miles.
“In college, I read a line from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden that has stayed with me: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’” Peter says. “I decided that I would not live that kind of life.”
Peter, who is originally from Queens, New York, met Ted Turner during their freshman week at Brown University. They made an unceremonious departure together three years later. After working for Ted’s father in Charleston, South Carolina, Peter served in the U.S. Army. Upon his discharge, Peter was recruited by his old friend to work at Turner Advertising Company where he eventually became president and managing partner. He also served on the board of directors of Turner Broadcasting System until the late 1980s. In 1983, Peter, upon the sale of Turner Advertising, decided to take a break from the fast-paced corporate world and began to explore the world. It was during one of those road adventures when his life took an unexpected turn.
In July 1995, on his way from Lake Tahoe, California, to Banff in Alberta, Canada, Peter fell asleep at the wheel and his Land Rover somersaulted in the Nevada desert. He broke a vertebra in his neck at the C-1/C-2 level.
After being airlifted to a Reno hospital, Peter was fitted with a metal halo to keep his head and neck immobile. Though doctors in Nevada wanted to perform surgery, friends urged him to return to Atlanta and receive treatment at Shepherd Center.
“Even though I lived in Atlanta, I had never heard of Shepherd Center,” Peter recalls, “But on the advice of good friends, I decided to fly home, and Ted sent his plane to bring me to Atlanta.”
Remarkably, Peter was not paralyzed. He was placed into traction at Shepherd Center and remained under the care of then-medical director David Apple, M.D. He was a patient at Shepherd for two weeks, but had to wear the halo for two more months after discharge.
“It was a great day when I got that thing off,” Peter recalls. “Two weeks later, I was back on the golf course. I was very fortunate, and they took good care of me at Shepherd.”
Peter’s injury did not curb his appetite for adventure, but it did make him want to do one thing: Give back.
“Giving was not a natural thing for me,” he admits. “I am slowly trying to evolve into a more generous person.”
Because of his experience as a patient at Shepherd Center, he began contributing to the hospital’s two big fundraisers – the Legendary Party and the Shepherd Center Cup golf tournament. – something he’s continued to do for nearly 20 years. His gifts have increased through the years. He made a donation to build a koi pond in the Shepherd garden for patients to have something to enjoy outdoors. His latest donation is helping to give a facelift to the recreation room in the main Shepherd building. The renovated room will include a 75” flat screen TV, updated lighting and décor, and new furniture.
“I’d like to make life there a little brighter,” he says. “When they are able to leave their rooms, I want patients to have a pleasant place to go.”
Peter plans to continue to find ways to give to Shepherd Center and is a member of the Bridge Builders Society, which means he has included the hospital in his estate plans.
“Everyone should find a charity that they feel good about to support financially or with their time, or both,” Peter says. “Shepherd Center is my charity. I experienced being a patient there and am thankful for the good care I received. You can’t help but travel through the corridors and facilities and see the good work they are doing and be inspired to help those efforts.”
Learn more about giving to Shepherd Center – including membership in the Bridge Builders Society – here.
By Sara Baxter
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Ga., is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and is a 152-bed facility. Last year Shepherd Center had 965 admissions to its inpatient programs and 571 to its day patient programs. In addition, Shepherd Center sees more than 6,600 people annually on an outpatient basis. For more information, visit Shepherd Center online at www.shepherd.org