In December 1978, James McClain had a seizure, fell and struck his head on a downtown sidewalk, and was permanently disabled. In a lawsuit, McClain alleged that Howard University Hospital emergency room personnel waited 12 hours to examine him and then failed to promptly diagnose and operate on his fractured skull. Because of the inattention, his lawyer charged, McClain's vision was impaired, he was unable to speak, he became paralyzed on his right side and he was left with only limited movement on his left side.

Last May, a D.C. Superior Court jury ordered the hospital to pay the 34-year-old Northwest man $3.75 million in damages. Howard University Hospital appealed the award and the settlement was reduced to $2.6 million, of which $250,000 went toward paying McClain's hospital bill.

Now, according to his brother Ernest, McClain is making progress. In November, he was moved to a nursing home in Rambert, S.C., so that he could be near his family. His mother cares for him full time. A specially designed house, with wheelchair ramps and special lavatory facilities, has been constructed with money from the lawsuit, and should be ready in April.

Ernest McClain has been a stabilizing force in his brother's life. "I just bought him a van, which we are going to get specially equipped to help him from the hospital to the home," said Ernest. "Basically, he's still in the same condition, but he's definitely more alert. He's speaking much better and sometimes he can even speak in full sentences."

Ernest says the family "is dealing with the situation much better. We know that we can't get his health back, and money's not everything, but it's enabled us to get the best possible treatment for him. Who knows, he may get up and walk someday. Only God knows about that one. At least he's alive."