Boone is fighting back
from paralyzing accident
sergeant remained conscious
to direct own rescue
(December 2010) Twenty-eight year old Tom
Boone spent the month of October learning to open and close his hands.
His father pried his hands open, then encouraged Tom to close them back
into a fist. Open, close, repeat, 10 times, 100 times, all day long.
by Laura Hodges
and Meredith Boone say they
have enjoyed tremendous support
from their hometown of Madison
while Tom recovers from a
Staff Sgt. Boone has done the same kind of excruciating
work all over his body since he was paralyzed in an off-road vehicle
accident on Sept. 10. You have to literally retrain every muscle
in your body to do its job, he said.
Boone is a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, stationed at Fort
Bragg, N.C. He was attending a family gathering in Tennessee when he
had the accident that nearly cost him his mobility.
He and other young family members were riding four-wheelers in a remote
location when he lost control of the Polaris Razor he was driving. His
cousin, Clinton Huber, was in the passenger seat.
Boone thinks he must have hit something. The two wheels on the drivers
side popped up, then he overcorrected, and the two wheels on the passenger
side flew into the air. The Razor ended on its side, with Boone lying
across it with his head and shoulders on the ground.
My first thought was, Man, my arms feel weird,
he recounted. He remembers a tingling in his limbs. Then he realized
he couldnt move his arms or his feet.
Thats when his training as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant started
to kick in. I thought, Really, did I just break my neck
in the middle of this field in Tennessee?
Fortunately, he not only realized exactly what had happened to him,
he was able to remain conscious to direct his own rescue.
The fact that I was awake saved my life, said Boone. He
told his relatives not to move him, but to find the cervical collar
that was part of the Army medical equipment he carried in his car. He
directed them how to stabilize his neck in the collar, so that he could
be safely moved.
The cousin who had been in the accident with him had only minor injuries,
so he went for help. A 911 call brought an ambulance, which took him
to a hospital in Waverly, Tenn. When asked where he wanted to be treated,
he asked, Where is the nearest Level I trauma center? Within
a few hours of his accident, a helicopter delivered him to Vanderbilt
Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Testing determined that the problem was in his neck, specifically the
C4 and C5 vertebrae, which were dislocated and fractured. Doctors first
tried traction to pull the vertebrae back into place. A halo was screwed
into Boones head, but no amount of pulling and twisting relieved
the pressure. I was completely dead from the neck down,
It was then that Boone met Dr. Clint J. Devin, an orthopedic surgeon
specializing in disorders of the spine. When Devin started talking about
surgery, Boone knew it was time to contact his wife of six weeks, Meredith,
who was staying with Boones parents, Joe and Nadja, in Madison.
The three started to Nashville immediately.
In the surgery that followed, Devin manually pulled the vertebrae back
into position. He pulled out shards of broken bone and fused the two
vertebrae with metal pins, rods and a piece of bone harvested from a
The original plan was to remove a piece of Boones own hip bone
for the graft, but that plan went awry when the surgeon severed an artery.
Ultimately, the site from which the bone was to be taken became infected
and caused Boone more problems than the spinal surgery itself.
The spinal surgery was immediately successful. As soon as he came out
of his anesthetic fog, Boone tried to move his limbs. They were
moving, which was huge. I had already convinced myself that I was going
to be a quadriplegic.
By the grace of God, it didnt turn out that way, he
Meredith Boone jokes now that shell have to get a doctors
note to get her husband through airport security. We call him
Franken-Cop now, she quipped.
Yeah, part Robo-Cop and part Frankenstein, smiles her husband.
Successful surgery was just the start of Boones recovery, however.
He spent 10 days in the intensive care unit at Vanderbilt, followed
by six weeks at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. The Shepherd Center
is one of the top rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. It specializes
in spinal cord injuries.
There is a reason why that hospital is ranked top 10 in the country,
said Boone, who responded well to the friendly and encouraging rehab
staff. The environment it would be almost impossible to
be unhappy there. Instead of focusing on what you couldnt do,
they focused on what you could do.
Boones determination has also contributed to his rehabilitation,
according to his wife. He was such a fighter. All he wanted to
do was stand, Meredith said, even when standing inevitably led
to vomiting. You couldnt stop him.
Meredith has become something of an instant expert on spinal cord injuries.
The Buffalo, N.Y., native said Toms injury is incomplete
in that there is no physical damage to the spinal cord. One thing
they say about spinal cord injuries is that if you can move it, you
can strengthen it.
Strength is what Tom Boone is working on now with physical and occupational
therapists at Kings Daughters Hospital & Health Services
in Madison. I get better every single day, he said.
Hes currently on a 30-day convalescent leave from the U.S. Army,
which he says has been exceptionally supportive during his ordeal. He
has been assigned a liaison and an advocate through the Special Operations
Care Group, as well as retired military mentors. In December hell
return to Fort Bragg as an instructor for the Special Forces Qualification
Course, the course from which he graduated in October 2009. That assignment
allows him to remain on active status. I can continue my therapy
and earn my paycheck, said Boone.
Tom and Meredith Boone are grateful to the people in Toms hometown
of Madison who lent support during his recovery. Meredith said she covered
an entire wall of Toms room at Vanderbilt with cards sent by students
of Shawe Memorial High School. Tom graduated from Shawe in 2001, and
his brother, Sam, is currently a junior there. Its nice
to know that people are supporting you. It gives you motivation to fight
harder, said Tom Boone.
His father, Joe Boone, is proud to tell people that his son is already
walking and running. We feel very fortunate, he said, remembering
the five weeks his son spent flexing his hands, arms and legs at the
Shepherd Center, with his parents and wife cheering him on every step
of the way. Every day people came in there with awful injuries.
It makes you feel fortunate for whatever health you have.
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