Paralyzed teen vows to "cowboy up"

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Tyler Hagans has endured more physical trauma than most people will ever know, but shows no signs of being defeated.

The Chaparral High School senior knew almost immediately after a motorcycle accident in July that he was paralyzed. Hagans was vacationing in Kentucky with a friend and was a passenger on his friend’s dad’s Harley-Davidson when a deer jumped in front of them. The ensuing impact threw both riders onto the roadway. Hagans’ spinal cord was crushed and his spine was shattered. Several ribs were broken and both lungs were punctured.

As if the pain was not unbearable enough, the accident occurred on a 106-degree day, and the 18-year-old lay helplessly on the searing asphalt for nearly 45 minutes, suffering third-degree burns on his back that required skin grafts.

Then, he flat-lined at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. He was gone for four minutes.

“They were able to bring him back,” said Krista Keys, Hagans’ mother and most staunch supporter in his rehabilitation at Craig Hospital, a world-renown spinal cord and brain injury treatment center in Englewood.

She received the call at work around 4:30 p.m. and was on a flight by 7 p.m. That would be her final day as office manager for a Parker optometrist, as she was abruptly fired after spending three weeks tending to her son in the intensive care unit. The family, at its most dire time of need, was suddenly left without one of its sources of income.

To top it off, because the crash happened in Kentucky, where deer-related accidents are considered an “act of God,” Hagans was not covered by the insurance company as a motorcycle passenger. But with all the emotional pain that the family has experienced, it has come out on the other side with a surprisingly upbeat attitude.

Hagans has a strong determination to continue enjoying life in spite of his permanent injury. His mantra, “Cowboy Up!,” is proudly displayed on hundreds of wristbands and T-shirts worn by Chaparral students and staff.

“If I don’t walk, it’s not really a big deal, because I can still do the same stuff you guys do, but I’m just in a wheelchair,” he said. “I’m still going to live my life and I’m going to have fun doing it, too.”

He has not only maintained a positive attitude, Hagans has kept his confidence and a wicked sense of humor. He kindly asked a doctor not to take skin for a skin graft from his rear end, citing it as his best physical asset.

The Parker teen also has flirted his way through treatment with various nurses, even using a chalkboard when he could not talk to ask for one’s number. However, it’s all in good fun. Hagans has a devoted girlfriend named Emily. His mother had a talk with Emily, saying she understood if Emily wanted to move on and not deal with a stressful situation.

“Her response was: ‘I didn’t fall in love with Tyler for his legs,’ ” Keys said.

In some way, Hagans considers himself “really lucky” because he was one inch away from becoming a quadriplegic. The helmet he was wearing during the accident might also have saved his life. The spinal cord specialists at Craig Hospital have helped Hagans through his rehabilitation, and various programs introduce him to new opportunities, such as scrap-metal sculpting, blow darts, fishing, camping and horseback riding.

The family has been helped along by donations from family members and friends, including one man who is donating his time to build a ramp into their Stonegate home. In a few months, it will become an adaptable home that allows Hagans to move around more freely. An account called the Medical Fund for Tyler Hagans (#7220407550) has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank and the family is accepting donations of materials for remodeling.

Doctors, close friends and his mother have been impressed by Hagans’ motivation and unshakable will under dismal circumstances. Keys looked on with admiration and tears in her eyes as Hagans laughed with a therapist Sept. 7 during his second session of functional electrical stimulation, which makes the leg muscles contract and move, preventing them from becoming atrophied.

“His spirit the entire time has been intact,” she said.

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