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Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > 2006

Teen rebuilds life after deer hunting accident

The Associated Press - GAINESVILLE, Ga.

At 16, Thomas "Jay" Harn is having to learn a lot of things outside the classroom, like dressing and bathing, using a catheter to go to the bathroom, pulling himself in and out of a wheelchair.

Two months ago, on a deer hunting trip in Middle Georgia's Hancock County, Jay leaned out of the deer stand, fell forward, somersaulted into the air and landed 10 feet later on his back.

"At first I was so stunned I didn't know what happened," Harn said. "But right away, I could tell that I couldn't feel my legs."

He was rushed to the hospital, where tests confirmed his back was broken near his waistline. Spinal cord damage prevented signals from the lower half of his body from reaching his brain. Though surgeons tried to stabilize his spine with rods and pins, the paralysis could not be reversed.

In more than half _ 56 percent _ of spinal injuries, the spinal cord is severed at the neck, leaving the patient a quadriplegic with little control over the upper body. Jay, who played football before his injury, has full use of his arms.

"I was pretty strong before I got hurt, which has helped tremendously," he said.

Jay went to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta to start his recovery, which he said was hard at the beginning, but has gotten better.

"I realized I can't just lay in this bed my whole life," he said. "I have to go back to being the person I was before."

Jay spent two months at Shepherd learning new skills. Seeing other teens in similar situations there helped in his rehabilitation. He said it also helped to see that paraplegics still can live full lives.

"There's so much that people in wheelchairs can do, like Paralympic sports, skiing, basketball," he said.

After being discharged from Shepherd last week, Jay moved into the home of one of his best friends, Seth Cape, because his wheelchair was too difficult to maneuver at his parents' home, a single-wide trailer. Soon, Jay hopes to move into a more wheelchair-friendly home with the help of his friend's family.

"Seth's dad is a builder, and they plan to build a (handicap-accessible) house on 10 acres my grandparents deeded to me," he said.

Jay is also planning to get his driver's license and is waiting to get a truck modified with hand controls. On Friday, he went back to school at Banks County High for the first time since the accident.

Though he was a little nervous, he said he didn't think it would take long to get back to his routine.

"I have lots of friends," he said. "I don't think it's going to be a big deal (being in a wheelchair now)."

And he's especially looking forward to getting back to the sport he's loved since kindergarten.

"I can still go hunting," he said. "They make deer stands for people in wheelchairs."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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