Greg’s Story

Site created on August 31, 2019

On Saturday August 24th, Greg was in a terrible hang gliding accident. He was flying near Monroe, Utah, and getting ready to land after a two hour flight. As he was approaching, an incredibly powerful and rare downdraft slammed him into the ground from about 15 feet in the air. In less than 2 seconds, he hit face and chest first. When the paramedics reached him he had no feeling or movement in his body.

Thanks to the fast action of his friends on the ground, the EMT'S and the life-flight, Greg ended up at the University of Utah the next day with his spine surgeon, Dr. Brandon Lawrence. He had a cracked neck and swelling all around his spinal cord. He was operated on right away with what we've been told are very successful results. Five years ago, Dr. Lawrence had done a fusion in Greg's neck from C3 to C7, and a fusion in his lower back two years before that. If not for the metal plate and the fused bones in Greg's neck, the outcome from this crash could have been much worse.

Fortunately, Greg's arms and feet regained some movement right away, which is an excellent sign. While this is all good news, we still have a long way to go. Greg moved to the inpatient rehabilitation unit at the U on Wednesday, and they expect him to be there for about 6 weeks. Through lots of rehab and hard work, we all expect him to walk out. He will need all the love and encouragement that has been showered on him this past week, and more, to get him through this long process. The outpouring of love has already made such a difference - please keep it up here.

Newest Update

Journal entry by Jennifer Billow

Greg’s accident was one year ago today.


The days are long but the years are short, the saying goes, and it’s true. It doesn’t seem possible – so much has happened, including a little thing called coronavirus. But even with that, our focus has remained on Greg’s recovery. Covid has continued to prevent him from going to PT and OT in Salt Lake, but there’s plenty of OT and PT opportunities around the house and yard. Greg, as usual, feels he doesn’t progress fast enough. However, he had to go down for one in-person check in at rehab recently and Kiki (his PT) and Paige (his OT) were quite impressed with his progress – of course!


As we were coming up to this big milestone, Greg thought a lot about how he wanted to mark it. From the beginning, he wanted to go back down to Monroe and go to the crash site. He also wanted to meet all the first responders and thank them for the great work they did. He called the Monroe EMS a few weeks ago to see if there was interest, and the receptionist said there definitely would be. Greg thought it would be nice to provide lunch for everyone, and asked if it would work better to come down on Saturday the 22ndor on Monday the 24th, the actual anniversary. She thought it would be easier to get everyone together on a Saturday, and she offered to get it all set up.


So, on Saturday, Greg, Paige, Cody, Steve and I drove the three hours to Monroe to meet with them. I have to say, I was a little worried. I totally supported Greg doing this, but what if it was awkward, or weird? What if it didn’t live up to his imagination? What if going to the site was horrible? Greg needed the closure, but I was worried.


As it turned out, it was wonderful.


Of the five EMS responders and two sheriff responders, all but one sheriff could be there. We had lunch delivered and were all masked up, and of course they were, too. We greeted each other and moved the tables around in the small EMS center so we could all face each other. We sat down to eat and talk and Greg began by telling his story and thanking them profusely. We both told them how grateful we are.  Then they each took turns telling their stories of that day as they remembered.


Interestingly, they were incredibly grateful to us for coming back and letting them know how things have gone. “We never know what happens after,” they said. “The HIPPA privacy laws mean that the hospitals can only tell us a little bit. You don’t know what it means to us to see you and hear from you what happened.” They said this many times, and I thought – how funny. We are grateful to them, but they are just as grateful to us!


They also told us details we never knew. The sheriff, who was the first on the scene, showed us the fence cutters he always carries in his vehicle. When Steve first reached Greg he was choking out from the glider wires against his throat. Steve had grabbed them from the Sheriff’s truck to release the tension on the wires.


The EMS team got there a few minutes later – the leader came straight from his home as it was his day off. He knew Greg was a deep trouble. “I knew he had gone into neurogenic shock, because he wasn’t sweating, and it was 105 degrees that day. I could also see he wasn’t breathing automatically – he was breathing using his stomach muscles. That’s how people die, because you can’t keep that up very long. Eventually your body is too tired and you stop breathing.” 


I started crying at this point, even though Greg was sitting right next to me, breathing just fine.


Others chimed in, telling us a detail here, another memory there. I was shocked at how they remembered every detail, and said so. “Oh, this one stuck with us,” one of them said, and they all nodded. “It was bad.”


The leader went on, “This one stuck with me a long time, because I didn’t know if I made the right call, putting you in the ambulance initially, instead of the helicopter. Your blood pressure was down to 80 over something. That’s not good. We had called the helicopter right away, but it takes them an hour to get to where we are. I worried that you’d lose your airway and you’d die. So I decided to call the ambulance to take you to the hospital in Richfield first, in case you needed to be trached. They could do it. But the ambulance ride would be more jarring. So we told Lifeflight to pick you up at the Richfield hospital. By the time you got there, they were arriving, and you were stabilized enough that they put you right in.


“When I shut the ambulance doors on you, I still wasn’t sure if it was the right decision. I talked about it with my boss the next day, and I thought about it a lot for the next few months. The only thing they would tell us when we called to find out about you a few days later, is that you were alive.”


I was still tearing up, hearing this. We didn’t know any of this, although Cody, when he called to let me know that awful evening, told me it was pretty bad. I could hear it in his voice. By the time I got to the hospital in Provo, where they first brought Greg because it was the closest trauma center, he was talking and he could move his lower arms and his toes a little. I didn’t know how close to death he had been. And we just dove into the next six months, all in.


After this amazing wonderful lunch, we said goodbye, and went over to the crash site. It was just one block away, in an alfalfa field. It was green and ordinary, although set against a beautiful mountain backdrop – the mountains where Greg had been flying. Greg and Paige and I walked out to the site – Cody and Steve gave us a few directions to the exact spot. 


We stood there, and Greg told me and Paige about his flight, especially the last half hour. He went through it in detail. He could see it, remember everything leading up to it. Nothing too out of the ordinary. The he told us he wanted to be alone there for a bit, so we walked away and let him be. He stood and looked around for a while, then called us back. “Well,” he said, “this is kind of a nonevent.” It wasn’t horrible, there wasn’t some big cathartic moment – it just was. And then we walked back to the truck, holding hands, said goodbye to Steve and Cody, and drove home.


This visit made me realize anew how very very lucky we were in that first 24 hours. Lucky that Steve landed before Greg, calling 911 as he was running to him, knowing enough not to move him because he could paralyze him, and knowing exactly where to cut the wire. The incredible first responders who got there in minutes because of Steve’s call, and made decisions to the best of their ability to keep Greg alive. The life flight and the first trauma team at IHC in Provo. The community of our small town who got us the cell phone number of Greg’s spine and neck surgeon, who got him transferred up to the U to do the emergency surgery before 24 hours had even elapsed. Lucky that the very same surgeon had done a 4-level c-spine fusion five years earlier that included a metal plate that probably prevented Greg’s spinal cord from being severed…


A year later, we are LUCKY & GRATEFUL PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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