For Rancho patient, humor heals the soul

DOWNEY - Jay Cramer was a talented young actor training for an appearance on "Survivor" by rock climbing in Malibu when he slipped and took a very hard fall."I hit my head on a giant rock and suffered a major spinal cord injury," he says. "I was in a coma, and when I regained consciousness, I realized I would no longer be fighting to win a TV reality show any more. Now I would be fighting for my life." Jay didn't have to fight alone. Although his body was badly broken and he would not be able to walk again, his Rancho therapists and visits from his many friends helped keep his spirits high. He improved day-by-day and week-by-week, relearning everything from swallowing to speaking. As his body grew stronger, his trademark sense of humor returned. Jay's self-deprecating comments and natural talent for comedic timing kept friends and clinicians laughing.

"It was either laugh or cry, and I found that I could bury both my physical and emotional pain in humor," he says. While he was still a patient at Rancho, Jay's therapists encouraged him to try his hand at stand-up comedy. "In 25 years as an entertainer, I had thought long and hard about doing stand-up, but I never had the courage to try," Jay says. "But after my accident things were different, because I had everything to gain and nothing to lose." Jay's therapy team next suggested that he take part in the annual Performing Arts of Rancho show--and he did. It was immediately clear that he had a special gift. In a matter of months, he was a stand-up comedian-even though he couldn't stand up. Soon he was performing on professional stages throughout the Los Angeles area. When he closed a sold-out show at Second City- Los Angeles, Jay was on his way. In 2007, he was named "Best New Comedian" in Los Angeles. Two years later, he won the title of "L.A.'s Funniest Comedian". He has opened for Adam Sandler, Martin Lawrence, Drew Carey, Kevin Nealon and Fred Willard, and worked with many other top comedians as well. He can be seen on stage at The Improv, the World Famous Comedy Store, and the Icehouse, and he has appeared on ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and as a spokesperson for Wal-Mart on television. Rancho continues to play a key role in Jay's life. "I always come back to Rancho, because this is where my heart is," Jay says. "I met my wife Katy at Rancho and we fell in love here. After we were married, we worked together on a television pilot and we feel the sky's the limit for our future collaborations in the entertainment industry…and in life. None of this would have been possible without Rancho." In 2009, Jay became the first Rancho patient to be appointed Director of Rancho's Performing Arts program. Under his leadership, the program has been enhanced to year-round status, and has been expanded to local schools and elderly care facilities. Past Rancho patients are now able to entertain throughout Rancho at annual events and inpatient classes, as well as twice a year at the Performing Arts of Rancho show. "When I took over the program I had no idea of the profound effect it would have on me," Jay says. "I knew that the Performing Arts had changed my life for the better five years ago, but now I am thrilled to say that other patients' lives have been drastically improved too." The next Performing Arts of Rancho show, entitled "Walking on Sunshine", will be held Friday, Feb. 25 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Barbara J. Riley Community & Senior Center at 7810 Quill Drive in Downey. It will showcase Jay and more than 20 fellow Rancho alumni patients who will be singing, acting, dancing and playing music to lift the spirits of patients, staff, family, friends and members of the community. Admission is free. "The Barbara J. Riley building is just across the street from Rancho, and yet it is taking us into a whole new world - a world of entertainment that is an important part of the recovery process for each of us," Jay says. "It helped me on my road to independence, and it has made a huge difference for many of my fellow patients as well." Today Jay is enjoying his new life. "I am very proud of my role as Director of the Performing Arts of Rancho, and I am pleased that we have been able to provide opportunities for many more patients to participate," he says. When he thinks back to his bad break on the rocks of Malibu, Jay feels that he has gained much more than he lost. "Katy and I are building a wonderful life together, and we know that our love will endure the test of time." "I have laughed more in the last five years than in any other time period of my life," he says. "I have learned that humor is a wonderful path to happiness and that a good strong smile heals all."

********** Published: February 17, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 44