The odds were against James R. Jeffreys of Lincoln Park, N.J., 45 years ago when he was born with a rare bone disease, Doctors predicted that he would not live more than a year. They said he would eventually be totally disabled and would never be able to lead a productive life.
However, Jeffreys, a victim of Osteogenesis imperfecta (sometimes called "brittle bone disease"), did not succumb.
He rolled his wheelchair two miles a day to and from high school to get an education when education for the handicapped was considered a waste. By the age of 21, Jeffreys - a promising artisan since childhood - owned his own shop and was a successful cabinet-maker.
For three years, Jeffreys - whose disease is marked by repeated fractures of the victim's brittle bones - was a prize-winning drive in regional drag races. Using a car equipped with hand-held controls, Jeffreys - who stands only four feet three and has had 100 fractures in his lifetime - won 14 racing awards.
Jeffrey's recently received a national award for accomplishments of another sort. He was named "Outstanding O. I. Adult of the Year," by the American Brittle Bone Society for overcoming his own disabilities and adopting seven children.
The governor of New Jersey Brendan Byrne, proclaimed it "James R. Jeffreys Day" stating in his decree that, "The life and career of James R. Jeffreys serves as an inspiration and a source of strength to all persons afflicted with physical handicaps."
Of the children adopted since 1970 by Jeffreys and his wife, Harriet, 50, one is blind; one was crippled by polio; one has a spinal disorder; one was born with no legs and one suffers with diabetes. Four of the children are biracial and two are Korean.
"We decided to adopt some children after we found out that the chances of our natural children inheriting O. I. was much greater than we had thought," said Jeffreys, who is the natural father of a daughter, Alleen, 13, and a son, Mark, 5; a victim of O. I.
"Before we were married, doctors told us the chances of our kids having O. I. was 800 to one," he said. "After we were married and had two children, the doctors told us that the new research showed that there was a 50-50 chance the additional children born to us would have the disease."
In 1970, the Jeffreys adopted their first child, Kimberly, 11, from the Holt Adoption Agency in Eugene, Ore. which specializes in Korean and Vietnamese orphans. Kimberly, who was 3 at the time of the adoption, was born in Korea.
A year later the Jeffreyss - who had planned to have 12 children before they found that the natural offspring might be born with brittle bone disease - adopted a second child. His name was Jimmy. He was born without legs.
"We had applied for another normal child, but the agency asked if we would be interested in taking a handicapped child born without any legs," Jeffreys told a recent visitor to his home in a suburb west of Newark.
"I said, Sure, why not," Jeffreys said. "I figured I could help him adjust far better than a normal person could.I figured all we had to do is get him artificial legs and things would work out."
Eventually, things did work out for Jimmy. The A. I. duPont Institute in Wilmington, Del., agreed to pay for the child's artificial legs at a cost of about $2,000. The leg must be refitted periodically, and replaced every 18 months to two years, Jeffreys said.
"When Jimmy first came to live with us, he had never walked on artificial legs before," Jeffreys said. "I can remember him lying on the kitchen floor with his legs, screaming, 'I can't do it. I can't walk.' But I would be screaming back to him: 'You can do it, Jimmy. Come on and try.'"
Jeffreys said Jimmy eventually learned to use his artificial legs aided by crutches and now straps them on each morning before he leaves for school. In the afternoons, Jimmy removes the legs as soon as he returns home and "walk" around the house on his hands.
In the summer of 1972 the Jeffreys became the foster parents of Richard, a blind boy of 12. Richard, now, 17, is a student at the Perkins School for the Blind, where he is learning skills that will prepare him to earn a living.
Later that year, the Jeffreys adopted Clark, now 15 and Korean, who was stricken with polio as a young child. The disease destroyed major muscles in his left leg, leaving him without complete control over the limb.
"When Clark first came to live with us, he couldn't walk the length of the driveway without stopping to rest," Jeffreys said. "Now he thinks nothing of walking three miles."
"We just kept after him. We did exercises and lifted weights until his leg was completely rebuilt," said Jeffreys.
Alice, who is biracial, was only 12 days old in 1974 when she was adopted by the Jeffreys. She now enjoys special status as the "baby" of the Jeffrey's household.
"We heard about (Alice) through an organization in New Jersey called 'Concerned Parents for Children,'" Jeffreys said. "They said they had a little black girl that was in the hospital and they needed a home for her. We decided to give her a home."
Peter, also biracial, but of no blood relation to Alice, was adopted in December, 1974. He was born with a spinal defect called spina bifida, which has caused the deadening of nerves which activate his bladder. Peter has had surgery and can now enjoy normal activities, Mrs. Jeffrey said.
Two months ago, the Jeffreys added John, 11, to their adopted family. John, a diabetic who must take daily injections of insulin to avoid severe illness and possibly death, inherited the disease from his father, according to Jeffreys.
The Jeffreys' natural daughter, Alleen, is a freshman and top student at the Parsippany Christian School, a church operated school attended by all of the Jeffreys' children.
Mark is an honor student at the prestigious Stony Brook School, a private high school on Long Island, N.Y. He has scholarships that amount to about two-thirds of his annual $4,000 tuition, Jeffreys said.
At school, Mark, who walks with a cane, is active in such non-contact sports as swimming, diving and pinpong. In an effort to help his limbs grow straight, doctors have surgically inserted steel rods inside the bones of his legs.
The rodding procedure did not exist during the developmental years of Jeffreys, whose limbs have grown more crooked with each of his 100 bone fractures.
What makes the Jeffreys extraordinary is the ability of family members to blend their lives into what seems to be a harmonious and wholesome household, despite vast difference.
The typical day at the Jeffreys' begins with a 7 a.m. breakfast, where the family is seated around a dining room table built by Jeffreys to accomodate 16.
Around 8 a.m., Jeffreys loads all the children except Alice into the family station wagon and, using hand held controls, drives the youngsters to school.
In the afternoons, the children are picked up from school by Mrs. Jeffreys, who is a registered nurse on the night shift at the Lincoln Park Nursey Home. The children attend to chores and take turns caring for the menagerie of family pets which includes two St. Bernard dogs, three cats, a mother goat and her baby, "Billy-the-kid."
Dinner is at 6 p.m. After the meal, the family engages in what Jeffreys describes as a "period of devotion" during which there are prayers, songs and a noisy recounting of the day's activities.
Next comes homework. Papers and books spread out on the tables and around the floor and the children take turns calling on their parents for help.
By 8:30 p.m., the younger children have gone to bed. The normal beehive sounds coming from the living room has subsided. Jeffreys talks about his view of life for the handicapped and his efforts to help his children develop a positive image of themselves.
"I try to teach the children that there's no such thing as can't. My parents taught me not to give up; to always try a thing first and to believe I could do it."
The Jeffreys have a yearly income of about $25,000, which includes both the Jeffreys's salaries and monthly allotments from the state for three of the seven children.
Nine years ago, Jeffreys sold the cabinet shop he had owned since he was 2, and purchased a wooded five-acre bt. where he built a new home and shop. An expert draftsman, Jeffreys said he saved $15,000 by designing the new four-bedroom brick ranch house, which includes his workshop, himself.
The house is designed to eliminate all architectural barriers and to accomodate persons with virtually any kind of physical handicap. There are no steps. Doorways are wider. Light switches and door knobs are within Jeffreys reach from his wheelchair. There is a swimming pool also designed to be accessible to the handicapped. Jeffreys said that swimming is one of the family's favorite sports.
Last summer, the Jeffreys crowded into the family station wagon and a rented house trailer and traveled to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. They camped out for 13 days. Jeffreys who took the family on a tour of the midwestern United States two years ago, drove the 2,500 mile stretch from New Jersey to Florida and back.
In winter Jeffreys shovels snow out of his long driveway. He rakes leaves in the fall. During the summer months, he plants a large garden that provides fresh vegetables for the family.
"I'm convinced that a person isn't really handicapped until people begin to tell him that he is," Jeffers said.
The minute you start doing everything for a person with a disability, then you're right - that person is handicapped.
"I believe we should be more concerned about a person's abilities than his disabilities" Jeffreys added. "Give me a flight of stairs and I'm handicapped. But ask me to produce a set of custom cabinets, and I'm an expert craftsman."