Syracuse High student making 'miraculous' progress after dirtbike accident

Monday , April 09, 2018 - 5:15 AM

A Syracuse High student faces a long recovery after suffering major injuries in a dirtbike accident Sunday, April 1, in Juab County.

But nearly a week after that injury, subsequent emergency brain surgery and three days in a coma, Cole Cheney is already walking and doctors say he could make a “90 percent” recovery.

Cheney, a junior at Syracuse who was also a running back on the football team, was dirtbiking with his cousin Kolbie Cheney and friend Adam Johnson at the Little Sahara sand dunes just west of Jericho in Juab County.

Cole — who was wearing a helmet, full protective gear and had spotters making sure the landing was clear — launched off a big jump he’d gone off several times that day and crashed into an ATV that had pulled into his landing spot.

By the time his spotters signaled for him to stop, Cole had gone off the jump.

Kolbie Cheney and Johnson tended to Cole on the side of the dune and two EMTs with trauma kits, who happened to be in the area, gave Cole quick medical attention before he was flown to a hospital.

“It was all a pretty intense situation, but he was out cold and had a big old gash on his head and was laying actually upside down on the hill,” Johnson said. “It sounds pretty gruesome, but he was just bleeding out of his head.”

Cheney’s head took the majority of the impact. He fractured his skull on his right side above his temple and suffered a brain bruise, fractured his cheekbone and fractured the L3 and L4 vertebrae in his spine.

He had surgery to remove bone fragments from his cheekbone and replace them with a metal mesh plate and 10 screws, and was in a medically induced coma the rest of Sunday, Monday and part of Tuesday.

There was a moment Monday when Kelly Cheney, Cole’s mother, thought she would need to start planning a funeral. Doctors were lowering Cole’s sedative levels to see if that could stimulate a response from him, but he wasn’t responding.

“The trauma doctor, I kid you not, was one foot away from walking over the threshold of the door and Cole started moving and gave us hope again,” she said.

There are a few things that happened to make Cole’s quick progress possible: the two EMTs who just happened to be riding in the area and saw Cole’s crash, and the location of the skull fracture.

“Everything that could go right in a situation like that went right. The doctors told us if you’re going to get a skull fracture, he got it in the exact spot that it didn’t kill him, that it didn’t immobilize him,” Kelly Cheney said. “The nurse told us on Monday that we should’ve been walking out of the hospital with a 16-year-old with the mentality of a 4-year-old.”

Tuesday is when things took a bigger swing upward and is why Cole’s case appears to be miraculous, nurses and doctors told Kelly Cheney.

Cole woke up. Not only that, but he sat up, stood up, took some steps and walked down the hall later that day.

In a video posted to Twitter on Thursday by Courtney Cheney, Kelly’s daughter, Cole can be seen walking in the hospital hallway, which was four days after the accident. He’s making jokes, smiling, laughing, showing his friends and family that his personality is still there.

“Up and walking and talking by Thursday, it’s just incredible how strong that kid is and how amazing he is,” Kolbie Cheney said. 

Friday, doctors told Kelly Cheney that with Cole’s quick progression, he could make about a “90 percent” cognitive recovery, since his brain sustained the major injuries and the rest of his body emerged relatively unscathed.

What exactly 90 percent means, though, is somewhat unclear. It’s just the unpredictive nature of recovering from brain injuries.

“What they’re saying is ‘Yes he’ll have a normal life, but we don’t know what that normal is going to be,’” Kelly Cheney said. “Is he going to be my same, sweet son with a dry sense of humor who’s friends with everyone or is he going to be angry on a daily basis and more agitated and maybe not quite as good of a student?”

A GoFundMe page  set up to help defray the family’s medical expenses had raised $6,600 of a $10,000 goal by Saturday evening, April 7.

Cole was transferred to McKay-Dee Hospital on Friday where he’ll start his rehabilitation, the first step in a lengthy recovery process. 

“(The doctor) said with injuries like this you’ve really gotta give it time. It’s going to take months before he can even, I don’t know, sit down and do math,” his mother said.

You can reach prep sports reporter Patrick Carr at pcarr@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickcarr_ or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/patrickcarr17.

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