Jason Atkinson adjusts the tention of his foot to a machine which is designed to flex his injured right leg at his Central Point home. Andy Atkinson Photo - Andy Atkinson

Atkinson on the road to recovery

When he lay on the garage floor bleeding and in pain three weeks ago, State Sen. Jason Atkinson didn't realize at first that a bullet had just torn through his right leg.

Only minutes later, when he overheard a dispatcher's voice in an emergency vehicle that had pulled up to his Central Point home, did he learn what had happened.

Atkinson had been repairing a bicycle owned by his friend Bill Leep, a Jacksonville city councilman, in his garage the evening of July 29. Atkinson had taken off a seat bag and dropped it on the floor, not knowing a loaded derringer was inside.

The gun discharged, sending a bullet into his leg above the knee and damaging the femur and hitting an artery. Leep later said he'd forgotten the gun was in the bag.

At first, Atkinson thought the sound of the gunshot was a shock absorber that had just broken on the mountain bike.

"When it went off, I hit the floor in pain that I cannot describe," said the 37-year-old state senator, who ran for governor in 2006. "It was just a nightmare, a horrible experience."

His wife, Stephanie, who has had medical training, rushed to the garage when she heard the sound. She knew exactly what to do when she found her husband lying on the floor.

"If it weren't for the quick thinking of my wife, it would have cost me my life right there," he said. "My wife, in perfect clarity of mind, stopped the bleeding by putting a finger in the hole and putting a bicycle tube around my leg."

Atkinson, an avid cyclist, will undergo extensive physical therapy for months to regain motion in his leg so he can walk and cycle again.

During the first week after the accident, Atkinson said doctors feared they might have to remove his lower leg because blood wasn't flowing to his foot. After surgery to repair blood vessels and to rebuild the leg with two plates that help support his damaged femur, doctors still aren't sure how his leg will heal, he said. But Atkinson is confident he'll be able to resume outdoor activities such as fishing for steelhead in the future.

"I'm saying it's going to be OK," he said. "It's been a real difficult road. The injuries are extensive."

As soon as he can, he plans to get on a stationary bicycle to build up muscle tone in his leg.

Atkinson, who was in good physical shape before the accident, said he's always tried to protect his knees when he skied professionally or raced on his bike, so he's thankful the bullet missed his knee. Still, he said his knee is swollen from the accident.

In constant pain and using a walker, Atkinson agreed to be interviewed by phone to let the community know how he's doing and to praise all those who helped him, from his wife and the doctors at Providence Medford Medical Center to his family and friends.

Doctors told him they stayed up at nights worrying about how they were going to save his leg.

"You go from this near-death experience to the cradle of these wonderful people at Providence," he said.

Atkinson said he's thankful his 5-year-old son, Perry, wasn't in the garage at the time of the shooting but was outside with Leep.

Perry was born prematurely in 2002, and Atkinson remembers spending long nights worrying about his son at his hospital bed for almost five months.

"Five years later, he stands by me," said Atkinson.

The accident scared his son, who worried about his dad during the more than two weeks he was in the hospital.

"He came in and said, 'I've been missing you, Dad,'" Atkinson said.

He said he and his son have enjoyed watching the Olympic games together.

Atkinson said he often works on bikes in his garage and has helped friends improve their riding skills.

He said he talks to Leep on a daily basis and is not bitter about what happened to him, which he considers a "bad accident."

Because the incident took place on private property, Central Point police did not file charges against Leep, who didn't have a concealed weapon permit.

Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican, said he last saw Atkinson more than a week ago when he was still in the hospital.

"He was in good spirits," he said. "And, he was grateful he wasn't dead and he still had a leg."

Richardson said Atkinson didn't discuss politics or the upcoming legislative session in January.

"He did not focus on anything except the aftermath of his shot and his recovery."

Atkinson said he's thankful every time he looks down and sees his two feet, and that the accident has changed his outlook on others who have suffered major injuries.

He's visited Iraq, and he said he now feels greater sympathy for soldiers who have lost limbs in combat and for a friend from church he met at the hospital who has been in a wheelchair for 30 years.

"It went from near tragedy to blessing after blessing after blessing," Atkinson said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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