Being my father’s son, I lived my life by the philosophy, "go big or go home." If something seemed a little bit crazy, Kenny was your man to do it. I began skiing at the tender age of three years old, and by the age of 23, I had long since surpassed the label of expert. On February 11, 2004, my dad and I, along with a few friends, went out night skiing as we did every Wednesday. The place we go to is a group of four different resorts. The night began at one, but a chairlift broke forcing us to relocate. The place we ended up at had one of those x-game-type terrain parks. I had ridden on it a few times that year, and felt completely comfortable with it.
My first run that night on the park, I hit a jump awkwardly, and was thrown upside down more than 40 ft. in the air. I remember being inverted and saying, "Oh, shit!" I tried to kick off my skis in midair, thinking it might help me come back around. I must have blacked out on impact, because I woke up sliding in the snow. All I was sure of was that I had a monster headache, and my neck hurt like a bastard. I remember thinking that I just needed to get up and walk it off, and it would be fine. But when I looked up… nothing was moving. I recognized the situation instantly. I was paralyzed.
The first thing I thought of was my girlfriend. I had made these big, elaborate plans to surprise her with a trip to the ocean for Valentine’s Day. By the time my buddies got to me, I was in a decent amount of shock, and kept saying over and over, "This can’t be happening, I can’t be paralyzed! I have to go to the ocean this weekend… this can’t be happening." It took the ski patrol somewhere around a half an hour to get to me. They loaded me on a sled, and towed me down to an ambulance where my father was waiting. I kept telling him where my cell phone was, and that he needed to call my girlfriend to tell her what happened. As they loaded me into the helicopter, the last thing I said to my dad was that I was sorry. I was in and out of consciousness the whole flight. As the medics tried to keep me awake, I remember saying to God, "OK, you can take me, I’m ready."
The next thing I remember, I was being wheeled into the emergency room. They needed to put traction on my neck, but were not allowed to give me anesthetics for some reason. This meant that I was fortunate enough to feel them screw a metal clamp into my skull. To this day, I still have nightmares of that crunching sound. Next, the surgeon came in, and said he wanted to try realigning my spine manually (like a chiropractor) before going to surgery. Basically, he was trying to re-break my neck. Again, something I had to feel without anesthetics. I kept telling him, "You need to stop, you are going to kill me if you don’t stop, please…" Needless to say, it didn’t work, and I still had to have surgery. After that, I don’t remember anything. My mom later told me that once I came to after surgery, I looked right at her and said "My life is changed now, forever."
After two weeks of a morphine induced nightmare, I was finally coherent . It was only then that I figured out the extent of my injuries. I had broke my neck between the C3 and C4 vertebrae, and was completely paralyzed. I also broke the T4 and T7 vertebrae in my back, and snapped my right femur in half. My girlfriend told me that they had put two plates and four screws in my neck, and a steel rod with four more screws in my leg. My back, they said, would heal on its own.
For those of you who don’t know much about the nervous system, one of the nerves that comes out of C4 is the frenic nerve. This controls your diaphragm function, which in turn controls your breathing, of course. My diaphragm shut down sometime after the accident, so I had to be put on a ventilator. The doctors told my family I would never talk, breathe, or eat again on my own in my life. Talk about shattering hopes. In reality, for an injury like mine, there was about a 50-50 chance to regain diaphragm function.
After two months of the worst hell I would not wish on my worst enemy, I was finally able to get rid of the ventilator, and learned to breathe, talk, and eat again on my own. I spent 2 1/2 weeks in intensive care, and another 2 1/2 months in a rehab facility. Since I had been a hard-core athlete prior to my accident, I was rather built, and was probably pushing quite close to a solid 180 lbs. However, within six months of the accident, atrophy teamed with a severe loss of appetite got me down to a disgusting 115 lbs. It was scary.
While nothing could have prepared me for the trials and tribulations this new life would hold, I am learning to do this as I go. I am quite lucky in the fact that I have an incredible support group of family and friends. My months are littered with hard nights, where I feel lost and depressed, but the mornings always bring a new day. There will always be those moments of speculation over a life I never got to live, but I find consolation in the fact that there still IS a life for me to live. All I can do, is take it one day at the time, and see what they each teach me.