What started off as a casual day of four-wheeling in the mountains turned into a life-altering event for the Hoog family.
On Sunday, 17-year-old Tyler Hoog, a junior baseball player at Skyline High School, flipped his Jeep on a mountain trail south of Bailey, leaving him with three fractured vertebrae and paralysis from the shoulders down.
Hoog has been at St. Anthony Hospital in Denver this week, and the family isn’t sure what the long-term prognosis will be for a student who is beloved by teammates, classmates and others.
“It’s impossible to say,” said Michael Hoog, Tyler’s father and the Falcons’ head baseball coach.
According to Michael, Tyler suffered fractures of his C2 and C4 vertebrae, as well as a dislocation and fracture of the C3 vertebrae.
As of Thursday afternoon, Tyler was still in the intensive care unit. He is able to communicate by mouthing words. He was taken off a breathing tube earlier this week and given a tracheotomy.
Michael said that while Tyler doesn’t have any feeling below the shoulders, “We know the nervous systems in Tyler’s legs and arms are intact.”
He added that Tyler “has been able to shrug his shoulders, which is indicative of some activity below his injury.”
While Tyler, who was likely to be the starting first baseman for the varsity baseball team in the spring, remains in the hospital the Skyline community has rallied around him.
The Skyline baseball program, Skyline Student Council and the Education Foundation for the St. Vrain Valley have set up “The Hope for Hoogie Fund” to raise money for Tyler’s recovery.
Tonight, the Falcons play Longmont in football. Skyline will be selling “Hope 4 Hoog” wristbands for $3. Those who wish to donate may also purchase Skyline Falcon Baseball hats for $15. Tickets to four Rockies games are available, as well, with a portion of those proceeds going to the “Hope for Hoogie Fund.”
Since Sunday, the Hoog family has received a wealth of support.
“Anybody that knows the Hoogs, we’ve gotten well wishes from Silver Creek, Longmont, Niwot, Frederick, coaches, teachers, parents. People have been reaching out,” said Travis O’Hair, a teacher and assistant baseball coach at Skyline.
“He’s made an impact on a lot of people for being 17 years old.”
On the day of the accident, Tyler and Michael were taking part in one of their favorite activities – driving their Jeeps in the mountains. Michael was driving with his wife, Kim, and two other friends in one Jeep. Tyler was driving a second Jeep, with friends and Skyline classmates Colton Dabney and Davide Costazza, an Italian exchange student living with the Hoogs. Tyler’s younger brother, Thomas, who is a freshman at Skyline, stayed home that day.
Michael came to a section of the trail that was washed out a bit. He got through it, but said Tyler, who was behind him, “didn’t see it and was probably going too fast” for that terrain.
Tyler’s Jeep went airborne, then slammed down to the ground on all four wheels. It bounced up again and then came down nose first before flipping over and landing on its top.
Michael quickly ran back to Tyler’s Jeep and literally ripped the door off, he said.
“I asked if he was OK and he said, ‘No, I’m scared and I can’t feel anything,'” Michael said. “He was bleeding pretty bad from his head.”
Michael had to cut the seat belt off Tyler and get him away from the vehicle.
Dabney and Costazza suffered minor injuries. Michael said another family coming the other direction stopped and called 911. Within 30 to 35 minutes, Michael said, Tyler was in a helicopter on his way to the hospital.
Michael held Tyler during that wait and said he is thankful he was there.
“I can’t imagine how much worse it would be to not be there,” he said. “His entire concern was making sure his friends were OK and that I didn’t blame myself for what happened. Every once in a while, he would tell me it was hard to breathe and ‘I can’t feel anything.'”
Within five hours of the accident, Tyler was in surgery. In the days since then, Tyler has made progress in some areas and Michael said he can tell “he’s kind of girding himself to go fight this thing.
“He’s doing all the right things. He’s trying to move his extremities and he’s asking us to check if they are moving. He’s taking inventory as to what all is working and what all is not.”
Meanwhile, Michael and Kim have received “a crash course in spinal cord injuries like you wouldn’t believe.”
In looking for the right rehabilitation center for Tyler, Michael spent Wednesday visiting two of the top rehab centers in the country, in Atlanta and Baltimore. He toured Denver’s Craig Hospital, another top rehab center, on Thursday. The Hoogs have also had conversations with the Christopher Reeve Spinal Cord Injury and Paralysis Foundation.
“There’s no way that anyone could ever prepare you for this,” Michael said. “The first 24 hours, you’re really slammed by these waves of anguish. … You think about how life-changing it is for an entire family and that’s devastating to consider. You kind of don’t know what to do.
“For the time being, I have some monumental tasks ahead of me,” dealing with insurance and finding the right rehab center.
While the Hoogs realize a long, uphill climb may await them, Michael spoke with optimism.
“There’s no telling what happens with rehab,” he said. “The great thing going for him, there’s been incredible advances in spinal cord research in the past 10 years. He’s only 17. In the next 10 years, who knows what advancements will be made.
“He may come out of this thing.”
For the time being, however, the Hoogs are grateful for the support they have received from the Longmont community, and beyond.
Since 2008, the Falcons have had a banner that reads “We Falcons Believe” hanging in the dugout for nearly every game they’ve played. That banner, signed by Falcons players, is now hanging in Tyler’s hospital room.
“I know that means a lot to him,” Michael said.
For information on how to support Hoog and his family, contact O’Hair at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-410-6021.
To follow Hoog’s progress, visit http://bit.ly/hopeforhoogie.
Brian Howell can be reached at email@example.com.