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May 27, 2021

Finding His Footing: Young Hunter Pushes After Life-Changing Injury

IU Health Bloomington Hospital

Finding His Footing: Young Hunter Pushes After Life-Changing Injury

It was a small wiggling of toes that defied expectations.

“I didn’t know this until recently,” said 22-year-old Jacob Hutchison of Spencer, Indiana, one month after his accident. “But Dr. Voorhies said I probably wouldn’t walk again.”

Jacob posing in camo

It all started on a pitch-black, cool October morning as Jacob headed into the woods with his dad and brother to go hunting.

Their double tree stand was about three miles from the house, and after checking the security of the stand he started to climb. He’d been hunting since he was nine-years-old in similar stands with no issues, but on this day something happened that would have a lasting impact on the apprentice lineman.

“I was standing on my left foot and crossed over to the other stand with my right foot,” said Jacob. “It gave way and I fell 21 feet.”

Jacob was awake for the whole experience — from hearing his brother call 911 as their father ran to him, to when he was strapped onto a board by paramedics, carried over a tree, placed onto a Utility Terrain Vehicle and finally brought to an ambulance.

Everything moved quickly after Jacob arrived at the IU Health Bloomington Hospital Emergency Department.

No time to wait

“We see injuries from tree stands pretty often,” said Andrew Watters, MD. “Fractures, head injuries, and dislocations all can occur and can be compounded by the fact that people are injured in the woods. They are often very cold (hypothermic) by the time they get medical help.”

Jacob being with his family at the time of the accident ensured that he got the care he needed as soon as possible.

“Initially he could move his legs some, but by the time he had arrived at the ED his legs were weaker and numb,” said Dr. Watters. “CT scans showed fractures of the spine, with fracture pieces pushed into the spinal cord. We are lucky to have neurosurgeons here who are well-trained in repairs such as this.”

Dr. Jason Voorhies and Jacob

He called neurosurgeon Jason Voorhies, MD for an emergency surgery.

“It was about 15 minutes…no more than 30 minutes before I was in surgery,” said Jacob.

The three-hour surgery ended up taking more than five after the surgery team saw fragments from his L2 bone had gone into his spinal canal.

“He had an L2 burst fracture,” said Dr. Voorhies. “Essentially when he landed, the L2 vertebrae shattered and a portion of the bone was pushed backward into his spinal canal where the spinal cord and nerves live.”

Tests during the surgery also showed that Jacob more than likely wouldn’t be able to walk again.

Defied odds

At his first post-surgery checkup in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) it was discovered that he could move his toes and feet. After seven days in the ICU, Jacob was moved to the IU Health Bloomington Hospital Rehabilitation Unit.

“The rehab unit at the hospital had a big part in my recovery, along with the nursing staff in the hospital,” said Jacob.

After he was released from the hospital, Jacob started outpatient rehabilitation with spine injury rehabilitation specialist Paul Viterisi, PT and his team at IU Health Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine Center West in Bloomington.

Since then, Jacob’s determination combined with this team’s specialized care has enabled him to get out of the wheelchair and further his recovery far quicker than expected.

On his fourth day at rehab, the goal was walking 70 feet. He went more than 100 feet.

After his first week at rehab, his surgical incision had healed.

At his first check up with Dr. Voorhies after being released from the hospital, Jacob surprised the neurosurgeon by walking into the appointment with a walker instead of using a wheelchair.

“Voorhies said he really didn’t think I’d be up,” said Jacob.

Continued improvement

Jacob in rehabilitation

Since starting this journey, Jacob has been unwavering in his dedication to getting better with twice-a-day exercises at home and rehabilitation appointments three times a week. And the work has paid off.

On January 30, he entered the rehabilitation facility with no walker and only needing a back brace for traveling in vehicles or lifting. During the one-hour therapy session, he worked with Viterisi on balance, uneven surfaces, endurance, synergy and more. Multiple times, Jacob would push himself and say “I can do a few more” during the exercises.

For each step, Viterisi was a comforting, supportive hand that kept Jacob on track for every second of the appointment while focusing on areas of improvement and caution.

Jacob never would have thought a random hunting trip with his dad and brother would lead to where he is today. But the future is looking bright due to his sheer grit and determination, and support from his family and healthcare team.

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