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Sunday, May 14, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ex-Playboy Centerfold Adjusts To Life As Paraplegic After Crash

Daily News

LONGVIEW, Cowlitz County - In 1987, Sharry Konopski had her fling in the limelight. As Playboy magazine's Miss August, she was hosted at Hugh Hefner's mansion. At home in Longview, dozens of admirers lined up to have the 5-foot-2, 19-year-old blonde sign her autograph across her centerfold.

"Playboy's in the past. I did my dream," said Sharry Konopski DeBolt, 27, now married and the mother of two - Spencer, 6, and Siera, 4. "My first dream was to be a model. I had that experience. I would have regretted it if I hadn't done it. I think it was a great experience. I'm preserved in stone."

Today, the resident of Silverlake, Cowlitz County, has steel rods in her back, can't control her bladder and faces a life of permanent paralysis from the waist down.

In the early-morning hours of April 1, while driving on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, she tried to avoid three deer. Her car left the road and flipped. She broke two vertebrae and several ribs and punctured her lung.

A pinup became a paraplegic.

Dressing is a struggle. Every move leaves her in pain. Yet DeBolt tries to remain upbeat. But sometimes the emotional and physical pain barge through.

"My lower half is dead. I just feel pain," she said, pinching her tiny dangling legs. "It's like touching a warm corpse."

A shiny white body brace allows her to sit rigidly upright in a wheelchair. Her children think Mommy looks like a Power Ranger.

As DeBolt drove up the highway early April 1, coming home from a cleaning job in Longview, she swerved and slammed on the brakes to avoid the deer. The car left the roadway and flipped at least three times before landing right-side up in a field.

The motion and impact jerked her tiny body out of her seat belt.

Her head shattered the side window. She honked the horn, turned the radio up and shouted for help. No one heard.

Disoriented, she attempted to drag herself toward the highway. Drifting in and out of consciousness for more than four hours, she could hear and see passing cars. Finally, Toutle Valley resident Jeff Hubbard spotted her car on his way to work.

"I heard him walking," DeBolt said, recalling Hubbard's footsteps coming toward her as she lay face down. "He thought I was dead."

DeBolt was airlifted to Portland's Emanuel Hospital, where she went through five hours of surgery to place two titanium rods in her back.

Cards, family photos and flowers line her hospital window. Several plastic-wrapped monster cookies fill her bedside drawer - her father is trying to keep her from losing weight.

A Playboy representative has called. News of her accident will soon appear in a fan-club newsletter and possibly the magazine.

Her day is busy with therapy. She works several hours to regain her upper-body strength, maintain her balance and keep her muscles conditioned.

Emanuel has videotaped her rehabilitation to show to high-risk young drivers. The cameraman says DeBolt is a good subject, willingly sharing her feelings and struggles on camera.

"There's so many busted ribs, every time I breath, they flex. It's miserable. Everything hurts - coughing, sneezing, vomiting. I can't roll over, twist or scratch.

"The (her legs) feel like pins and needles, like someone stomped on my right foot," she said.

Drugs and determination help her keep her composure. "My legs move uncontrollably. It hurts when they move. They (the kids) know my legs don't work and I can't walk." "

DeBolt went home briefly for a trial run. She learned just how difficult the transition will be.

"I was in tears. I realized how hard it will be to get around the house. I realize how really small our house is."

When she's settled back home permanently, DeBolt faces a life filled with obstacles - narrow halls, high counters, stairs. But she is determined to become independent - to be a wife, mother and active person again.

"My daughter said, `You can still hug us, Mommy.' "

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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