my injury. (very long + pictures)

Some people have emailed and asked about the x-ray pictures that I posted a while ago. So for that and a few other questions, I thought maybe I’d explain a bit about my injury. I don’t ever recall writing in depth about the actual accident, just mostly about afterwards. So here it goes.

I was a passenger in the crash with my friends on a Friday night/Saturday morning of my senior year of high school. It happened just after midnight so all the paperwork says April 26, 2003, but to me, it was still Friday night. I won’t explain the entire thing, but to put into one sentence, we went through a stop sign without stopping and a SUV that was traveling on the crossing highway t-boned us. One of my friends, who was also on the passenger side, shattered his pelvis and had to be taken 3 hours away a week later for surgery. Everyone else (besides he and I) in our vehicle was okay, getting by with bruises and scrapes. In the other vehicle, one girl had major damage to her face and has undergone 3 or 4 plastic surgeries to line up the bones correctly. Her sister broke her jaw, and the two men were just shaken up. In retrospect, we all were lucky. It could have been worse.


This is the intersection where it happened. The stop sign is the one we missed.

I sustained a C6/7 incomplete spinal cord injury. Basically, I busted by C6 vertebra in my neck, and the shards of bones pressed against my spinal cord, killing off the nerves. I also cracked my C2 vertebra on each side (they call this a hangman’s break because this was apparently what killed men when they were hanged), but thankfully neither of those pieces touched my spinal cord. If they had, there is no doubt in my mind I would be dead right now. We were so almost a half an hour away from hospital by ambulance, and given the fog that night (which is the only thing I can account for our driver not seeing the stop sign), the EMS helicopter wasn’t flying. I wouldn’t have been able to breathe, and I would have died.

I spent 4 days in a drug-induced stated because my blood pressure kept plummeting, making it too risky for me to have immediate surgery. On the following Tuesday, I had my C6 replaced by a bone graft from my own hip plus a titanium plate and 4 screws, which is what can be seen in the x-rays. To fix the C2, they put a halo on me. It was a brace to keep me from moving my neck at ALL.


Right after surgery. I have no recollection of this. I hate this picture because I think I look dead.

The day after surgery. I don’t remember this either, but I apparently was always smiling. I didn’t cry until night 16 when I woke up in the middle of the night wanting a Pepsi and finally admitted to my favorite nurse that I was having flashbacks.

My dad brought me a corsage the night of prom, which I spent in ICU watching Sweet Home Alabama.

I can’t fully explain it in words, and the pictures above might be slightly hard to see, but the rods were connected to a vest I wore and then 4 screws in my head were connected to the rods. I spent 17 days total in the ICU here in Topeka, then I was flown to Craig Hospital in Denver for rehabilitation. Each week, the halo nurse would come tighten them and check their torque. Movement and exercise loosened them slightly over the course of the days, and the screws would slide on my skull and tear the site where they were screwed in. Believe me, it was as awful and painful as it sounds. In the picture below, I was about an hour away of having the halo removed. I had worn it for 3 months, and my C2 had healed. That was probably the scariest day of my entire hospital stay. I knew that one little slip of those bones would leave me on a ventilator or even dead, and it scared the hell out of me. They unscrewed the screws 2 at a time while I sat exhausted in my wheelchair from being afraid, and I cried the entire time. Well, after I told the nurse “Lefty loosey, lefy loosey!” That day was July 16, 2003. It was the birthday of the girl who had been driving, my (then) best friend.


My parents and I plus Cory McClenthan, the drag racer, at Craig Hospital’s Motor Sports Day.

I came home at the end of August. My family had decorated the new ramp with balloons, and my nieces and nephews had drawn little pictures for me. It was a good homecoming if you have to have one that way. I remember being very full of energy that night, even though we had just driven almost 10 hours to get home. I think I was fueled by excitement, but I was also scared. Coming home to an open environment after spending so much time with medical professionals watching over me all the time made me nervous and unsure that something might happen. It didn’t, and I settled in pretty well. Right away I decided to get things back on track, back to where I had planned they would be before the accident. In that first year, I bought an accessible van, taught myself to drive, and enrolled in college. That pretty much leads up to now, where I am in the next phase of getting a job and moving out of my parents’ house.

I have been very, very fortunate to have an incomplete injury. This means that some of the nerves, although damaged, were still able to have function left. I regained considerable function and feeling in my wrists and hands/fingers. They are still nowhere near as strong as they were previously, but I am thankful to have gotten even a small part back. Complete injuries usually do not regain any kind of function below their level of injury.

I can’t expect anyone to understand all of this mumbo jumbo I am writing. It took me a long time and a lot of discussions with my doctors in the rehabilitation hospital to understand my injury as fully as I could. Even today, I am learning about my injury and how to make life paralyzed and from a wheelchair more manageable.

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2 Comments to “my injury. (very long + pictures)”

  1. wow, what an ordeal. those pictures are hard to look at, but thank you for sharing them with me.

  2. I’m currently in a Halo and I’m experiencing anxiety from some of the movement I’m feeling with my screws. I would greatly appreciate talking to someone who has been there.
    If that isn’t totally weird to you and you’re open to a short conversation with me please email me. I am a married mother-of-three who lives in Oklahoma and I’m just trying to get through a couple of really hard days that have really broken down my spirit

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