Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Leighton Mark, a former United Press International photographer who learned to take photographs one-handed after he was shot on assignment in Beirut in 1984, died in Topeka, Kan., his family confirmed Tuesday. He was 67.
He died Saturday at the Lexington Park Assisted Living Health Center. Mark had been in declining health for the past year and a half, his cousin, Monette Mark, said.
Mark, a native of Topeka, joined UPI in 1981 and worked for the news agency through the late 1990s, when he began working for the Associated Press. Before his time at the wire agencies, he shot photos for the Independence Examiner in Missouri and the Washburn University student newspaper. He graduated from the school in 1976.
During his time with UPI, he covered the Iran-Contra Affair, the Lebanese civil war, South Africa, Brussels, and the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations in Washington, D.C. Much of that he did with the use of only one arm.
While living in Beirut in the 1980s, he got caught up in some crossfire outside his apartment, taking a gunshot to the chest. Mark had been outside taking photographs of the fighting when he was shot. A witness told UPI the gunmen may have mistaken his camera for a gun.
He underwent 9 hours of surgery to remove shrapnel and the bullet, but the injuries left his right arm paralyzed.
"I almost came back in a body bag," Mark recalled three years later in a 1987 UPI article about the shooting. "I remember seeing the AK go up, ducking -- too slowly -- screaming my head off in terror and bouncing off the wall."
By 1987, Mark was back stateside, covering the White House without the use of his right arm due to the shooting.
With help from Jorge Mora, a former camera repairman for National Geographic, Mark designed a camera he could use with one arm. He used special telephoto lenses with added shutter releases connected to the motor.
Mark said he held his camera in the palm of his left hand and released the shutter with his little finger. He said former Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who lost an arm in World War II, offered to teach the photographer how to shoot pool one-armed.
Monette Mark told UPI her cousin figured out how to continue his photography career and taught himself to write again with his left hand.
"Back then they didn't do a lot of physical or occupational therapy," she said, adding that she's always thought of him as an "amazing guy."
Gary Kemper, the former UPI newspictures manager in London, agreed.
"Leighton was an inspiration to many photographers," he said after learning of Mark's death. "After surviving a terrible bullet wound during coverage of the Beirut conflict in 1984 for UPI, he never lost his determination to work as a photojournalist."
Former UPI picture editor and newspictures general manger Allan Papkin, who worked with Mark in Washington, D.C., said Mark rarely spoke about his injury or any difficulties he faced doing his job thereafter.
Mark was "just always positive about everything."
"Leighton's always positive outlook overshadowed everything that could be interpreted as negative," Papkin said, adding that he never turned down an assignment.
Mark is survived by his aunt, Dorothy Mark, and cousin, Monette Mark.