Ryan's Accident: 10 Years Later

posted May 22, 2017, 10:21 PM by Ryan Creech   [ updated May 23, 2017, 7:11 PM ]
So, it's after midnight on warm summer night here in Kentucky. I'm having some trouble sleeping lately, I just have a lot on my mind. What's on my mind tonight? Tonight marks the ten year anniversary of the ATV accident which left me paralyzed. Ten years is a really long time... I thought it fitting to build sort of a blog post around it. This thing has gotten a bit unwieldy, and I understand if you don't read all of it. Here's a handy table of contents. While you're here, please consider donating to help us raise money for our in-vitro fertilization this fall!

On May 5, 2007, I graduated from the University of the CuRyan and Grandma at Graduationmberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, with a Bachelor's degree in English and Communications. I knew that I had fallen in love with the mountains of Kentucky years before, and I wasn't keen to leave; I accepted a position as a residence hall director starting in the fall and resolved to finally finish the education degree I had started years before. I wasn't the first person in the family to go to college, as my dad and stepmom's mothers both worked as nurses, but I was the first one of my generation. I invited my ex-stepdad to come witness the graduation even though we hadn't seen each other in years. He drove thee entire 14 hour round trip in one day. Since we didn't get a chance to visit, we decided that I should travel to North Carolina for a couple of weeks to visit him.

I flew to North Carolina, my first time flying on my own. I left on May 21st and flew to DC and then to Charlotte, where Bryan picked me up. I got settled in. The next day, we decided to go out to an off road track to ride ATVs. I was excited because I had never ridden one before. I remember it as a hot and sunny day. Before we got to the trails, we stopped at a gas station so I could get a Sun Drop (it's a citrus flavored soda that used to be hard to find in Kentucky)... it's funny how the little details stick with you. Bryan and his son Jason, who was 3 years old or so, took off in one direction and I headed for the bunny slope. I should have known that ATVs weren't for me; I took off toward the trails and came to a fork in the path that indicated the beginner and advanced trails. I was indecisive enough that I just ran in to the signpost. I collected myself and took off down the beginner trail. I hadn't gone very far when the ATV got away from me and ran me over. The mud was soft and I got stuck, and the ATV ended up in the woods without me. I stood up, excited and proud. This is what four wheeling is all about! I rode around for a while and then it was time to go. We headed back to the truck and started loading the ATVs, but Jason really wanted one last loop. He and Bryan took off and I decided to do a couple of laps around the dirtbike trail nearby while I waited.

The dirtbike trail was so fast! Packed sand, hills, jumps... everything you'd expect. I was cruising around and getting braver by the minute. I came to a double jump and punched the throttle, ready to fly like a bird! I got to the base of the hill and realized that I had no clue how to pull off a jump so I slowed down and coasted over the hills. Next came a second double jump, and I goosed it again. I hesitated once more at the bottom but not well enough. I went airborne and it was the most glorious feeling until I realized that I wasn't going to clear the second hill. The Earth was turning in slow motion during this part, so apologies to those of you who noticed. I came down on the hill, HARD, and not with the wheels, but with the front bumper. The ATV rolled and bounced on top of me. My helmet was crushed and ripped from my head. Bryan saw the ATV in the air without me on board and came running to help. I laid there in the hot sand, the sun beating down. Jason sat with me while Bryan raced to load the truck so he could take me to the hospital. Jason watched as I bled from all over my body and flopped around, trying to get up.I was certain I had just a broken leg, and I was certain that graduating from college meant that I was no longer on my dad's health insurance. I didn't want the expense of an ambulance. I rolled around for probably 15 or 20 minutes, ripping and tearing my spinal cord in the process. Bryan finally realized how dire the situation was and called for an ambulance.

I don't remember a lot about that ambulance ride. I have a vague memory of them cutting off my clothes. I was wearing a brand new pair of shoes, and I was worried about getting those back. They took me to the hospital in Tarboro, NC. I will never forget being loaded on to a big metal table, completely immobilized by neck braces and strapped to a backboard. A nurse leaned over me and said 'Honey, we've done everything we can for you. The helicopter is on its way.' What? They've done all they can? This is a hospital, right? I knew things were bad when the hospital couldn't even fix what was wrong. The nurse gave me some sedation drugs and I didn't get to enjoy the chopper at all.

When I awoke, I was at Pitt Memorial Hospital, part of Eastern Carolina University. I was strapped in to a medieval torture device called a traction bed. I was still immobilized, but this bed rocked me back and forth, side to side, to keep the blood flowing and prevent bedsores. It wasn't long before my squad began to show up. My best friends from college came along with my girlfriend of a year, Melody. My dad and stepmom came right away, too. Soon, I had the whole waiting room full of concerned family members. I was on a waiting list for surgery and there was no way to know the extent of my damage. Finally after being scheduled and bumped for days, I had my surgery. My spine was fused around the L1-L3 vertebrae, which means they put rods and screws in there. Afterwords I was put in to a hospital bed. I wasn't allowed to bend past 30 degrees, but I didn't want to. I broke my sternum in the accident and was trying to learn to use my arms to do things, but every move just ripped that sternum apart again. I had a pretty decent head wound and some internal bleeding, but I was still here. 

At Pitt, the nurses started calling me MacGyver. All I was allowed were liquids, but I couldn't sit upright to drink them. I took a pile of bendy straws and connected them to make long straws to allow me to reach the bedside table. The physical therapists came in to visit. I was in pretty rough shape, they said, and it might be as long as a year before I could safely leave the hospital and fly back home!

Rehab (not that kind)
Just months before my accident, we lost a really important member of the family. My grandpa Ozzie, or 'Pap', as we called him, was a very healthy man who had rarely been to a doctor in his life! He was hospitalized and the doctors had a very difficult time determining what was wrong with him. He spent months there, highly sedated. When he passed, it hit the family hard. He was such a giving and caring man. My grandma used what was left of the life insurance money to hire a private company to fly me back to Ohio so I could be with the rest of the family. 

EMTs picked me up and loaded me in to an ambulance. We went to the airport and loaded in to a private jet. This thing was outfitted to the point that they could perform surgery in midair! Melody's first time on a plane was on a very tiny aircraft. We landed in Cincinnati and my EMTs loaded me in to a second ambulance and delivered me to the Drake Center for inpatient rehab. I arrived there on June 2nd, about 10 days after my accident.

Ryan Hospital Friends Family
The Drake Center was an amazing place. For 6 weeks, the PT, OT, Speech, and Psych staff worked with us every day to teach us basic skills to learn to live independently. I learned that I was a T6-T7 Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury. I didn't really know most of those words before the accident! The staff at Drake was incredible. I learned to get around the world in a wheelchair and how to see the world in a different light. I had amazing support from friends and family. I had my trusty Nerf dart gun and a life sized cardboard Elvis for target practice, and a wise-cracking CNA to collect my ammo. We got involved with a service called CarePages that creates a message board for loved ones to leave supportive messages, and we tried to keep everyone informed as I progressed. Dear friends built ramps and a wheelchair-friendly deck on my parents' house and I moved in with them for a year, all the while doing rehab several days a week at Drake. I learned to drive a modified car. In December, my right leg even began to move again! It was good, controlled movement. It wasn't going to allow me to walk, but definitely inspired me to keep working.

Ryan Speaking
As I continued to heal, I started public speaking. I had an important message: No matter how bad things may seem right now, there's always hope. It seems a bit trite now, but to go through something so tragic and make it to the other side with a smile on my face took a lot of positive thinking.

After a year of living at home, my dad and I started to talk about me moving out. My Physical Therapist decided that I had learned enough and that it was time to start my independent life. I moved back to Kentucky and in to a tiny 2 bedroom apartment with the girlfriend who would eventually become my wife. I couldn't get around well in the apartment. My grandfather came and built a ramp to allow me safe access. I had to transfer in to a rolling office chair to fit through the bathroom door! After a couple of months drawing SSDI benefits, I decided that it was time to return to work. I talked to the college and got a job as the Switchboard Operator and Motorpool Manager.  

Jennifer's Wedding
In August, my baby sister got married and I got to take Melody on a proper first airplane trip. Coming home, however, we missed our plane. My grandparents drove us home! Before that, however, we went to an accessibility conference in Orlando. It was amazing! I made a few friends and learned a lot about the process of living in the world after a spinal cord injury.

From the first year that we met in college, my friends and I had always thrown a big Halloween party. It was super important. I struggled to think of the best and least appropriate costume I could wear to debut my new identity as a paraplegic, and then it hit me: Christopher Reeve! After a terrible accident in 1995, the former Superman actor became quadriplegic and was confined to a wheelchair and ventilator. He was definitely and inspiration to me as I learned my way in the world, so I thought a Superman costume had just the right balance of respect and offensiveness. This is me holding my Most Offensive Costume Award. 
Superman Costume
Life as a paraplegic has been anything but boring. I left the college motorpool office and went to work for the Cooperative Extensive Service. Melody and I went to the No Barriers Summit and tried all kinds of adaptive recreation gear. While we were in Colorado, I found out about an awesome job with the Vocational Rehabilitation Office and I became a Rehab Technologist. Mell and I were married in September of 2011. In the days since the accident, I have been all over the country. I have had surgeries and health scares. I have had some pretty incredible opportunities and been fortunate in being able to help a lot of people. Most importantly, I have had a pretty great support system to help me get through it all. I am not always the best at keeping in touch but I think of you people often and I know that I would have given up a long time ago if it weren't for your love, thoughts, prayers, and support. In 10 years, I have trashed 5 manual wheelchairs and maybe a dozen power chairs. I have been to the top of Rocky Mountain National Park and dipped my feet in the ocean. I have spoken at conferences and taught other people about not only how they can change the world around them, but why they have to.

Today, I am 5 1/2 years in to a great career as a Rehab Technologist. I spend my days helping people overcome their disabilities and reduce their dependence on government aid to reenter the workforce. Melody and I have spent the last 5 years (and tens of thousands of dollars) struggling with infertility, but you can read more about that on this site. I am a Certified Durable Medical Equipment Specialist and hope to become an Assistive Technology Professional this year. I have a beautiful wife, I own a car and a house, and I haven't had to miss a single opportunity in life as a result of my accident. 

There were a lot of times on this journey that I could have given up on living a fulfilling life. Full disclosure, there were probably a couple of times I even considered it. But today, right now, I am happier and more self-actualized than I ever would have been. My experiences have molded me in to the man I am today. I may not be perfect, but I have great reverence for the gift I have been given. Thanks again to everyone who has supported me over the last 10 years, and I look forward to finding out what the next 10 hold!