ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
There's a lot of fight left in Allen Hoadley. And he's not fighting alone.
The 43-year-old rural La Grande man, confined to a wheelchair since a March 27 snowmobile accident, has a wife, two daughters and a host of friends to back him up as he struggles with his uncertain future.
"I knew I had a lot of friends, but I never realized how something like this can bring people together," he said recently. "Even today, people are still calling to see if they can do things for us."
Before that terrible day near Soldier Mountain in southern Idaho, Hoadley's life was as happy and normal as it could be.
He was earning a good living as a self-employed truck driver. Whenever he could, he spent quality time with Traci, his wife of 14 years, and daughters Audra, 14, and Tani, 6.
They lived in a picturesque spot in the country, a perfect place to be either parent or child.
"We did a lot of family things together Â— horseback riding, boating and snowmobiling," Hoadley said.
Allen and Traci both worked, and were conscious last winter that quality time was getting hard to come by.
When the La Grande Snow Drifters Snowmobile Clubs decided on the trip to Soldier Mountain, the Hoadleys, longtime members, jumped at the chance to go.
"We decided we didn't want to wait till spring to have something to do together," Allen Hoadley said.
It turned out to be a lovely weekend, graced both with good weather and with good sledding.
"It was easy riding, maybe too easy. It was just a good weekend for playing around. I think I got lazy and wasn't on my toes," he said.
On Sunday, Hoadley rode alone to the top of a ridge to take some pictures.
The view stretched out for miles, and he saw the weather was about to take a turn for the worse. A storm was coming in.
He put his helmet back on Â— a very smart move, as it turned out Â— and started back down.
He reckons he was traveling somewhere between 50 and 60 mph when he made the mistake that changed his life.
"I reached for the throttle and accidentally hit the kill switch. The engine locked up. It threw me right over the windshield and head first into a tree. I felt my back break once when I hit, and again when I spun around off the tree. I landed about 50 feet away," he recalled.
He crashed to the snow face down. He felt a knifing pain in his upper back. He had trouble catching his breath.
More menacing was that he had no feeling in his legs.
Snow Drifters members make it a point to go well-prepared. Hoadley, like others in the club, carried a two-way radio. Its mike was clipped to his shoulder, and he was able to turn his head to speak into it.
Fellow club members responded quickly to his distress call. One club member had a cell phone.
After some difficulty, contact was made with the local emergency medical system. A wheeled ambulance was sent to the nearest Sno-Park, but there was no good way to get Hoadley to it.
Next, a helicopter was dispatched to the coordinates plotted on a Snow Drifter's GPS.
The wait for the chopper was a long one. The pilot battled the storm, and had difficulty landing.
"I was thinking at that point it was important to get warmed back up, and to keep talking. I knew I was broken bad. I just didn't know how bad," Hoadley said.
Hoadley was taken to St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Boise, where doctors
did what they could to repair the
They did a bone graft on his shattered fourth thoracic vertebra, and they pinned together thoracic vertebrae 2-6.
The post-surgical prognosis wasn't good.
"They told me I wouldn't feel anything from the chest down," Hoadley said.
That wasn't strictly true, as things turned out. Hoadley's spinal cord had been crushed, but not severed.
Today, some nerve impulses are getting through, he said. He isn't entirely without feeling down below.
It isn't much, but it's enough to give him a glimmer of hope. Enough to keep him fighting on.
"You just never know about the spinal cord. It's very slow to heal, maybe the hardest part of the body to heal. But we've got it so some things are passing through. If I touch myself on my stomach or legs, I can feel it," he said.
Intensive physical therapy including weight training and electrical nerve stimulation have helped. But there is no magic cure.
"It's been tough. You have good days and bad days. You fight it and get frustrated. Then you go to sleep and you wake up and it's a new day," he said.
He added, "It's getting better all the time."
At first, Hoadley lacked the stamina to sit in his wheelchair for even short periods of time.
That has improved. And with Allen up and around more, the family is patching its life back together.
"We do things around the house in the morning. We go to horse shows with the kids, and to Audra's volleyball games," Hoadley said.
The battle goes on, day after day,
week after week. Hoadley lives in the
present, but keeps his eyes fixed on a distant horizon, too.
"Once I'm strong enough to go all day, I'll take the rehabilitation and find a job. I'd really like to get so I have a daily routine again," he said.
Taken altogether, the accident and the aftermath have given him much to think about.
He has formulated a golden rule: never take anything for granted.
"I've learned that life can be taken away from you in pieces or in the blink of an eye," he said.
"Lots of times, I hear people say they want to go here or there someday, and I think, Well, if they really want to go someplace, they better go now."
Both Hoadley and his wife are grateful for the time they have together and also for the community that has turned out to support them .
That support manifested itself shortly after the accident, when a huge Union County crowd showed up for an auction that friends organized to help pay medical expenses.
It has continued in a hundred other ways since then.
"I've had a windfall of emotional support," Traci Hoadley said. "I'll be having a really bad day, and someone always shows up, saying, Â‘What can I do for you?' I don't know how you ever repay that."
Allen Hoadley has asked himself that same question.
"I don't know if you ever can," he said. "Maybe the way to pay kindness back is to pass it on to someone else."