June 27, 2013

Crash Victim Working Hard to Get Back on His Feet

Sweet 16 birthdays are supposed to be celebrated with 16 candles and teenagers taking the big steps to officially get behind the driver's wheel.

For Downing resident Shane Gunnell, his milestone passed with him working his tail off simply to get back to taking steps. The big day found Gunnell in the midst of his three-hour rehab workout at Ruske Rehabilitation Center in Columbia, which had become his home away from home after a dirt bike accident left him with a broken back and suffering from paralysis from the waist down.

"That was definitely not what he wanted to be doing, but it could have been worse," said mom Kelle. "He is here, and he is with us. I have faith he is going to get better."

Kelle got the call on April 25th that her son had been in an accident while he was riding his dirt bike on some family farm ground in Scotland County. Workers building fence on the ground contacted her about the crash.

While alarmed by the news Kelle initially was relieved when she arrived and watched Shane walk to her vehicle in get in to be transported to the hospital.

But x-rays revealed a broken T7 vertebrae, an injury that forced the hospital to summon Air Evac helicopter to transport Gunnell to Columbia.

The following morning he had emergency surgery and a rod was placed in his back to support the injured area.

"The process didn't reveal any injury to the spinal cord, but as we quickly found out, swelling is also a major concern," Kelle said.

And that was the case with Shane, whose swelling near the injury resulted in paralysis below his waistline.

The family will learn more about the long-term prognosis over the next six months, the timeframe doctors indicated such injuries typically subside within.

"We just don't know right now what that prognosis is going to be," Kelle said. "He's experienced some sensations and some of the testing has appeared to produce positive results, but the doctors say it's too early to tell."

While it might be too early for a long-term prognosis, Shane proved it's never too early to start rehabilitation. Less than a week following the major surgery, the staff at Ruske already had him sitting up and working on transferring himself to and from a wheelchair.

Therapy was delayed briefly due to a broken right arm suffered in the crash, but even that would not hold Shane back for long. A few weeks after the crash he had begun balance exercises and other rehab work, a process that continued the entire month of May.

"They told us the sooner the better to get started and Shane really took that to heart," Kelle said. "He has been in really good spirits, and has actually handled it a lot better than I have. It is amazing how resilient he has been."

Shane's spirits have been raised by the story of his uncle, Kelle's brother, Chris Childress. Chris was critically injured in an accident, and Kelle said the family was not sure if he would make it. They were given little hope that he would ever walk, if he did survive. Not only did he make it, but Chris regained his ability to walk despite a similar spinal injury.

But aid has not come just from the immediate family. Kelle praised the community support that has been demonstrated for her son and their family, who returned to Downing on June 4th.

"Downing may be a small town, but there is no way to measure the amount of support we have received," Kelle said. "It is humbling how people have taken care of our needs, whether it was mowing for us while we were with Shane in Columbia, or dropping by with meals since we've been home. The Hammer Mill immediately installed a ramp, so we can continue to take Shane there for supper like we have regularly done."

The community support will be on full display on July 13th. A benefit has been organized for the family to help with medical expenses. A hog roast will be held at the Downing Depot Park at 6 p.m. followed by a benefit auction.

A donation account has also been set up at the Bank of Memphis for individuals wishing to make a contribution.

For more information on the event contact one of the organizers, Bruce & Lisa Wells (341-9264) Kevin Holdren (341-7226), Randy and Rhonda Miller (341-4043, Matt Brewer (216-0237) Kirk Watson (573-406-5389) or Rodney and Tammy Newland (341-0431).

A benefit poker ride is also being organized for that day. Riders will register beginning at 12:30 p.m. at the Downing Fire Station with a 1 p.m. departure time. For more info contact Patrick Miller314-422-3482.

That will mark the time that Shane will be heading back to Ruske for some follow up work.

"We expect to be down there for two or three weeks," Kelle said. "We'll learn a lot more at that time."

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