Don McKinney

First post: Sep 10, 2017 Latest post: Aug 28, 2019

I decided to do this journal because it helps me to get my feelings out and keep track of what is going on as well as keep everyone updated. This first post is probably a little overwhelming because I just put all of the events down but not necessarily in chronological order.   

On 8/28/17, we were mountain biking at Copper Mountain when Don had a horrible accident that changed our life. He went over the handlebars on his mountain bike and had to be air lifted to St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, CO. 

He had an unstable fracture of C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck. This left him unable to move his arms or legs. The doctors did a c3-c5 laminectomy to stabilize the vertebrae. He came out of the surgery feeling as good as can be expected. He was very alert and talking to us and in very little pain. He still was unable to move his arms and legs.

A couple days after his surgery, he started sleeping all the time and could not clear the secretions from his chest. The vertebrae that were injured control the diaphragm so he was having trouble clearing them. We all have the same secretions but since we have all of our muscles working, we can clear them without really thinking about it. He went through days of quad coughing, and respiratory  therapy pushing on his stomach to make him cough things up, suctioning his throat. It was really violent and stressful for him and was no longer helping so the decision was made to do a tracheotomy.  After the trach was put in, he started having a little anxiety because it is like breathing through a straw as well as the fact that the air is coming in through the throat instead of the normal pathway. It is pretty common that this happens so after a couple days, they put the ventilator on the trach to help him breathe. What a difference. His face was so relaxed while he was sleeping and he slept for a couple days because his body was so worn out. He was also experiencing pain from the trach so they started him on pain meds. Up tho this point, he really had not had much pain. He had only taken tylenol. The pain meds only lasted a couple days. 

He had a feeding tube put in his nose because he didn't pass a swallow test so that he can eat and drink. This is killing him because he is one who likes to have his 3+ meals a day. He even asked them to squeeze a burrito through the feeding tube. He now has the PEG tube in his stomach which is more comfortable. It has to stay in for a month but if he can eat in a week, it's not in the way. 

He has what is called an A-line. It resembles an IV but it monitors his BP in real time. They are giving meds intravenously to raise his BP so that it flushes more blood through the spinal cord in hopes that his helps him heal. 

He does have movement and some feeling in his right arm and it is getting a little stronger every day. His left arm is not quite as strong, but it is getting a little better as well. Any thing above the nipple line, he can feel just fine and shrugs his shoulders great. Still nothing in the legs/feet. He can not move his fingers even though he can feel your touch. 

Today the Dr. performed a test to determine what Don’s ASIA score is, as of now Don’s score is ASIA-A complete which is the highest (worst) level. The Dr. said this is a starting point and they will re-evaluate him when he gets to the Craig hospital. Starting at this level doesn’t mean that he is not going to improve. It is just a starting point. They have a two phased approach, that sounds contradictory, one phase is to get him setup with equipment needed for his current state, while at the same time work on improving what he motion and feeling that he currently has. As things change they then focus on the new movements to try and make those better.  Don currently has several things going for him, he in good physical shape, his spine was compressed, not severed and he has a positive attitude and is willing to do the work needed. He will and be at  one of the best spinal cord injury hospitals in the country. They hope to get him in at Craig on Wednesday, 9/6 and think his rehab will be  approximately 3 months. (

The spinal protocol is typically 5 days in ICU then to a regular room or to Craig Rehab hospital. He was supposed to go straight to Craig but he and to be at a certain point first. He either had to be able to swallow or have a PEG feeding tube in his stomach. He had to be off the A-Line and BP medicine. So he was not ready to go on 9/6 so the next day is Monday 9/11 but then revised it to Tuesday 9/12. Nothing to do with his progress at this point but they don't like receiving new patients on the weekend or Mondays. Don is getting a little down because he is anxious to get there. 

They moved Don to a new room. Still in ICU but a room with a view. He has a big window and can see a little bit of South Table Mountain behind the buildings. We watched the sunset and he had a little smile and twinkle in his eyes. Much better spirits today.

It is Saturday and the weekends are very quiet because there aren't as many doctors checking in. He sat in a chair for 3 hours and looked out the window most of that time. He doesn't seem to be in good spirits today, he is so bored and wants to get out of here. I don't blame him, we know that when he gets to Craig, he will be busy and have goals and things to  do. The only thing that he has here, is to lay and think and wonder about his future. He can't even talk right now so he has to be so down. 

The doctors and nurses here are so compassionate and caring about not only him, but the family. They keep us informed on everything they are doing and the rounds in the morning are a full team consisting of the nurse, trauma doc, critical care doc, spinal doc, dietary, case worker and sometimes the Craig doc. There have been times that even the nurses have shared tears with me.  There were so many days that I felt he was going backwards and there was no forward progression. The nurse told me that I can't compare progress on a daily basis. I have to look at it weekly. I am trying to remember this but it is extremely hard.  If this horrible accident had to happen, I'm glad we are where we are. 

I know that we are in a marathon now, it will be a long and sometimes slow process but I still have Don and I know that we will get through it.  We have been extremely touched by all of the support, prayers and love that we have received from family, friends and even the staff here at St. Anthony. 

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