Max Ahlquist Maxwell Ahlquist

First post: Jun 17, 2019 Latest post: Sep 19, 2021
Welcome to Max’s CaringBridge website. We are using it to keep family and friends updated in one place.

In June 2019, Max was on an epic month-long outdoor adventure trip with his high school touring California, Utah and Colorado.  While on the river portion of the trip, a makeshift slip-n-slide was set up using the underside of a raft, with the kids running from the shore, sliding across the underside of the raft, people lifting the nose of the raft and then the kids launching off the raft into the water.  Somehow Max was inadvertently launched in such a way that he landed head first in shallow waters.  When his head struck the river bottom, Max was instantly unable to move his arms or legs.  He held his breath hoping the group realized he had not come up for air.  He was promptly pulled from the water, carried out of the canyon on a table top, and then life flighted to Grand Junction, Colorado.  An initial CT scan and MRI showed a neck fracture (crushed vertebrae) and a spinal cord injury, so he was then flown to Denver Children’s Hospital for acute care. 

The following morning, Max underwent surgery to fuse his C4 through C7 vertebrae in order to stabilize his neck.  We were devastated to learn that Max had become a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down.  On June 24, Max was transferred to Craig Hospital in Englewood Colorado to begin intensive physical and occupational therapy.  Craig Hospital is a specialized rehabilitation facility that aggressively focuses on maximizing neurological recovery for spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, a refuge where broken bodies and minds are knitted back together again.  Max remained at Craig Hospital until early October 2019 where he made a tremendous amount of progress.  Nearly four months after the injury, Max returned home where he reintegrated back into school and continued with daily therapy. 

While many quadriplegics never regain use of arms, legs or torso, Max is nicknamed a ‘Superquad’ since he has regained important, although limited, use of his limbs and torso.  Now at a year and a half post-injury, Max takes on average 200 - 300 steps per day ( (occasionally he can exert himself and push himself farther though often resulting in days/weeks of fatigue.   Heat and cold impact level of fatigue and ability to move).  As a point of comparison, a typical 18-year old male takes 12,000 – 16,000 steps per day.  He struggles with balance, gait and endurance using crutch(es) when necessary and touching walls and surfaces to regain his balance.  He also utilizes several other assistive devices for walking, including a Bioness L300 GO that straps to his thigh and knee to electrically stimulate his leg muscles/nerves, and an AFO (ankle-foot orthotic) to avoid hyperextension of his knee and long-term knee issues. 

Max’s finger function is at about a 30% pre-injury capacity, but he is able to twist his wrists and arms to use his phone, to eat, ‘hunt & peck’ on a keyboard and drive an unmodified car.  Unfortunately, he is unable to type, play the guitar, play the piano or participate in other activities/functions that require more complex finger coordination.  For handwriting, he mainly uses his shoulder to move a pen which can pretty quickly lead to fatigue.  Max deals with neurogenic bowel and bladder and general fatigue is always an issue.   

Despite all of the challenges, we watched a miracle unfold this year right before our very eyes, as Max not only returned to school but somehow finished the school year strong enough to be named one of the two valedictorians for Del Oro High School.  Max will be attending Stanford University this fall studying engineering.  Max’s positive attitude, wide grin, and infectious laughter are encouraging and inspiring to those around him.   Thank you for following Max's progress on Caring Bridge!

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