Young man looks forward to coming home to Tonganoxie
Little Sahara State Park, Sept. 15.
Travis Schultz was in Oklahoma, four-wheeling with friends.
It was going to be a good time.
But the evening didn't turn out as planned.
It was almost dark when Travis rode over the top of a sand dune. And from there, nobody's really sure what happened. But somehow, for some reason, his four-wheeler flipped and Travis flew off.
When the phone rang, Travis' mother, Donna Schultz, was at home in Tonganoxie. It was 9:15 p.m. Her husband, Larry, was at work in Lawrence.
Travis' friend, Daniel Workman, was on the phone.
"He said, 'Travis has been in an accident,'" Donna said last Saturday.
Daniel told her Travis had flipped off his four-wheeler.
"And he said, 'The ambulance people say he has a concussion and he can't feel his legs.'"
Donna, who along with her husband had always told Travis to be careful on the four-wheeler, listened in disbelief.
But even then she knew it was true and something was incredibly wrong with Travis, her second of three sons.
"The floor drops out from under you," she said.
Emergency personnel planned to fly Travis to Wichita. But because of a storm, he was taken to Mercy Health Center in Oklahoma City, about 100 miles from where the accident occurred.
Donna reached Larry at work. He rushed home and at 11 p.m. they left for Oklahoma City, a five-hour drive in the dark. The couple didn't know what to expect.
"We get to the hospital and find out that he's going to have surgery," Donna said.
During the four-hour surgery, Donna said, surgeons removed broken pieces of Travis' sixth and seventh thoracic vertebra, repaired the lining of his spinal cord and installed metal rods to stabilize his back.
Last Saturday, Travis came home for a visit.
This coming Friday, two days after his 20th birthday, he'll come home for good.
Since Sept. 21, he's been at Kansas Rehabilitation Hospital in Topeka. During therapy, he's been in a standing position, supported by a sort of harness. He's used an AutoAmbulator, which is a treadmill device that simulates walking. He's also using biofeedback therapy, which measures the signals that are sent from the brain to the muscles. And after he's released from the center he'll continue going back three days a week for therapy.
Late Saturday afternoon as his folks and aunt and uncle prepared dinner on the grill, Travis rested on his bed, glad to be home.
"I just can't wait to feel my legs again and walk," Travis said, petting his dog. "That's my big thing."
In his accident, Travis' spinal cord was damaged, not severed.
"I have leg spasms and stuff all the time and tingling sensations all the way through my legs," Travis said. "So I have hope that's a good thing and that one day I can feel them again and be able to walk."
It was good to come home, Travis said.
"A bunch of the neighbors, they knew I was coming home, they had welcome signs up for me and everything, so that was nice," Travis said.
Travis expressed gratitude toward his family, friends and to the community.
"Everyone's looking out for me, and my mom and dad are helping me all the time," he said. "I'm not used to all this. I wasn't the most dependent person and I did stuff on my own, and now I can't do that right now."
His father stood reassuringly at the foot of his bed, and said, "You'll get back."
Travis said he didn't quite know how to express his gratitude.
"I'm just thankful for all the people praying for me and taking care of me and calling me," Travis said, adding he was grateful for the support.
The great outdoors
Travis works for Tonganoxie Recreation Commission and is in his second year at Kansas City Kansas Community College. He said he may take online classes before going back to campus. He plans to major in wildlife management.
An outdoor guy at heart, Travis has a couple trips he's looking forward to.
There's a Canadian fishing trip planned for next summer. And later, an elk hunt.
Travis has long been a hunter, and earlier this year got a turkey with a bow and arrow.
Hunting is so much on Travis' mind that when his parents first saw him in the hospital, one of the first questions Travis asked was how would he get into his deer stand.
"Those plans have to be put aside for just a little while," Larry said.
The family is coping, with help of their faith.
"It's just an experience that you think happens to other people -- you think it doesn't happen to you," Donna said. "But the grace of the good Lord is carrying us through. We know He's the great physician and He's going to heal Travis to be the best he can be."
And Larry said, friends are helping the family.
"The response from the community has been overwhelming," he said. "People have offered help from everywhere."
Donna said, "The visits, the phone calls, the meals, everything ... it's so awesome and it's nice to know that there are ..."
Larry finished her sentence, "Wonderful, caring people that live in the same community."
And the couple has faith in the strength of their son, as well.
Larry said, smiling: "When they say there's a good chance you won't walk again, I say, 'You don't know Travis.'"