Future research may hold a key to restore mobility
Early in the first week of June, Nathan and Jamie Blum, Schaller, learned the happy news that they were expecting their second child; a playmate for their son Logan, 2. Later that same week, the family happiness turned to sorrow when Nathan was involved in a semi-truck crash that left him a paraplegic.
The family is adapting to their new way of life as they prepare for the arrival of their baby any day now.
Nathan and Jamie's faith has blossomed through the tragedy as has their marriage.
The couple just moved in to a brand new home in Schaller that is totally handicap accessible, thanks to many family members, friends and their Summit Evangelical Free Church family.
It was June 6, Nathan was to go to South Dakota with his semi. Sometimes Jamie went with him but on this day she opted to stay home. While driving the Remsen blacktop, Nathan reached down for his schedule, something he had done perhaps a hundred times before. But his hands slipped off the steering wheel and he and the truck veered off the road.
The truck entered a ditch and hit a field drive, launching into the air for 140 feet. The semi slammed down causing Nathan's L1 vertebrae to shatter.
"It all happened so fast," he commented. "I remember landing and couldn't feel my legs."
He was able to reach for his cell phone to call 9-1-1. A couple that had been behind him stopped. She, a nurse practitioner, climbed inside of the semi and stabilized his head until the ambulance arrived.
He was able, also, to call his boss to tell him he'd had an accident and asked him to call Jamie. He was on his way to the Orange City Hospital. Jamie contacted her mother, a nurse who happens to work at that hospital and asked her to meet Nathan when he arrived.
When he arrived, his mother-in-law and sister-in-law were at the hospital. X-rays were the first order of business and it was revealed quite clearly that Nathan's back was broken and that they couldn't provide the kind of care he needed at the small hospital. He was life-flighted to Mercy Medical in Sioux City. Jamie's sister contacted her, still en route to the hospital, to tell her she needed to get to Sioux City as quickly as possible.
The specialist examining Nathan told him - separate from the family - he would probably never walk again. "It was horrible. Incredible. I was all alone," Nathan said.
The doctor then told the news to Jamie and the rest of the family members that had gathered. He stressed not to break down in front of Nathan, who was being prepared for surgery.
"We were all in shock. I don't think it's fully hit us yet. I was in disbelief that it had happened and thought it must be a dream; it couldn't be happening to us," Jamie said.
The surgery went well. The fragmented bones had been removed and a donated femur bone was placed in Nathan's back, fused with two titanium rods and four titanium screws.
Shortly after the surgery, Nathan experienced spinal chord shock. Prior to surgery he had feeling from his knees up; following the shock, he could no longer feel anything from his waist down.
Anger set in during the two weeks that Nathan was hospitalized at Mercy.
The couple was sent to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. which specializes in caring for persons with spinal chord and/or brain injuries.
It was here, Nathan said, that his anger disappeared; he realized he was "one of the lucky ones."
"It was there that I saw people that were in the same boat as me and after seeing some of them, I realized I wasn't really so bad off. I still have my arms and I still have my brain."
He became acquainted with many of the patients, and still keeps in contact with a couple of them. It helps, he said, to talk to people going through some of the same things he is.
He remained in the Colorado hospital for eight weeks where he learned such things as how to maneuver a wheelchair, how to transfer from his chair to bed, how to do many of the everyday things. "That training has brought me to be fully independent," he said.
He even went through a driver's training class to learn to operate a hand-control vehicle. He now has such a vehicle - a handicap converted Dodge Caravan - and finds it a piece of cake to roll onto the ramp and transfer into the driver's seat.
"Coming home was the test," said Jamie. "We had doctors and psychologists. When we got home, it was just us. All our friends and family have helped pitch in wherever they could and we came to the realization either we adapt or it would eat us up."
The first thing they realized was that their home was totally inaccessible for Nathan. Plans for a new house were made but while it was being built, Nathan stayed at the Amerihost Inn in Storm Lake. The set up was perfect for him and Jamie and Logan visited as often as possible.
On Saturday, he was able to move into the family's new home.
There are many situations where this 28-year-old would like to leap out of his chair and dig right in " but he knows what he can and cannot do. If there is ever a problem, we talk it out," Jamie said.
The couple will never give up hope that Nathan may walk again. The doctors have said that within two years they will know if that is a possibility; Nathan's spinal chord is intact but there is a great deal of swelling.
He has his name in at the Colorado hospital and may have the opportunity to take part in research or experiments if it means a chance of bringing back the feeling in his legs. The couple will also keep and preserve the blood from their baby's umbilical chord in case stem cell research progresses.
"We can deal with this," Jamie said. "Things could've been so much worse." Even little Logan is OK with the situation; he like the wheelchair when Nathan isn't in it and if he sees that Nathan's foot has slipped off the wheelchair's footrest, he gently sets it back on for his dad.
Nathan added, "I have a great faith in God. I believe this happened for a reason."
The couple shares a huge thank you to all their friends and family members. The Buena Vista Regional Medical Center, where Jamie has been employed in the admissions department, have been "phenomenal," she said and the people of Schaller have also been so caring. "I think we got a card from at least every person who lives here," she said.
Nathan's parents are Randy and Elaine Blum of Schaller.