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Teen taking small steps to recovery from alleged racial attack

April 8, 1997

CHICAGO (AP) _ Every step that 13-year-old Lenard Clark takes is a cause for celebration. Every word he says is a reason for hope.

Any glimmer of progress means he is a little more like the child who went to play basketball in a park a few weeks ago, and less like the bloody victim of an attack that police say was solely because Lenard is black.

When he arrived at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on March 28, a week after the attack, Lenard was just emerging from his coma and could not leave his bed.

Today, with his mother to lean on, he can walk down the hospital’s halls. His one word so far was, ``Mama.″

``He is still in the confused and agitated state of recovery from his coma, but he is getting more and more responsive every day,″ Dr. Lisa Thornton, his pediatrician, said Monday. ``Now, he without question understands certain things that are said to him.″

Lenard’s progress these past two weeks is only the beginning of what will probably be a long recovery. He is expected to leave the hospital at the end of April, but will have to spend months or years in therapy.

And there is no guarantee he will lead the life he once did.

During the attack, Lenard’s head was slammed into a building and he was kicked repeatedly before being left unconscious in an alley a few blocks from Comiskey Park in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. His brain was injured, affecting his development.

Police said Lenard was targeted by three white men because he is black, and several black leaders led protests through the predominantly white neighborhood.

Frank Caruso, 18, Michael Kwidzinski, 19, and Victor Jasas, 17, are each charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery and committing a hate crime. They have denied any involvement in the attack.

Since arriving at the rehabilitation hospital, Lenard has spent eight hours each day on speech, cognitive and physical therapy. Thornton said cognitive therapy, especially that involving long-term memory and problem-solving, usually is the hardest part of recovery.

``We still have to be very guarded about what we say about that because that is usually the longest recovery phase that happens,″ she said. ``We won’t know where he’s going to end up cognitively for several months yet.″

Lenard sleeps in a bed enclosed by a mesh cover to keep him from falling out; he has a feeding tube in his nose and makes grunting noises to indicate what he wants.

His best responses are to his mother, Wanda McMurray, who has maintained almost an around-the-clock vigil at his bedside since the March 21 beating. He reaches out to her and is soothed by her voice, Thornton said.

In a voice barely above a whisper, McMurray said she was grateful for the cards and letters she has received from around the nation.

``I want to tell everyone that I really thank them and may God bless them,″ she said. ``I thank you all for your support.″

Several collections have been taken up to help with Lenard’s medical bills, which are being covered mostly by Medicaid, said Dr. Henry Betts, president of the hospital.

The Rev. Martini Shaw, an Episcopal pastor from Lenard’s neighborhood, is among those who have taken up a collection for the family. He does not want Lenard’s injuries to become secondary to the protests over the beating.

``Certainly, this incident has raised the consciousness of people in the city and people in the nation to the fact that racism does exist in our nation still,″ he said. ``But one has to be very careful that we don’t forget that there is a child who is very badly hurt and that should be in the forefront of our minds and our prayers.″

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