For the second time that winter, Bob Dykstra and his friends jumped on their snowmobiles and shot into the woods. Always a fan of snow sports, Bob was eager to tear up the powder.
They approached a hill that they’d gone over hundreds of times before. Bob flew over the pinnacle and instead of landing upright and riding down the slope, the snowmobile’s skis pointed to the sky and the vehicle flipped on top of him.
For the 20-foot drop down the hill, Bob was pinned under the weight of the massive, roaring snowmobile. As he and the machine slowed to a stop, Bob surveyed the damage.
“I remember thinking, if I just catch my breath I’ll be alright. Then I went to move my legs and they didn’t move. I realized it was a lot worse than I thought it’d be,” Bob said.
Bob lay mangled in the snowy forest. Half of his ribcage shattered, his sternum snapped, both lungs collapsed, his pelvis fractured, the sack around his heart ripped, multiple vertebrae fractured and his spinal cord was pinched 90 percent shut. EMTs arrived and rushed Bob to the hospital.
Doctors put Bob in a coma for 3 days. His family waited for him to wake. Bob’s son, Zach, was devastated over the accident and desperately hoped for good news.
“I was afraid I might lose my father,” Zach said.
When Bob came to, he provided his family with comic relief.
“Anyone looking to buy a used snowmobile?” Bob chuckled.
Despite Bob’s optimistic attitude, his future looked grim. He could barely sit up without fainting and his surgeons said he’d never walk again.
Five days later, Bob checked into Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. Within a week, he was using the parallel bars to stand himself up. He and his therapists fought hard to regain his abilities.
Although Bob was determined to recover, his circumstance took a toll on his emotions. Once, in the middle of the night, he broke down sobbing. A nurse overheard him and sat by his bed. She talked with Bob until he felt better.
“You’re not a patient here — you’re a person,” Bob said, “For them to take the time and take the personal interest, it just means the world to me.”
Motivated by his family, Bob learned to walk with crutches. Zach spent the day with him whenever he had a day off of school, and his therapists pushed him toward independence.
At one doctor’s appointment, Bob stood waiting in the exam room. The nurse came in and was puzzled.
Incredulous, he asked, “Did you walk in here?”
Bob’s doctor was amazed to see him standing tall.
“Bob,” his doctor said, “You’re a living miracle! With how bad your spinal cord was, I didn’t think you’d ever be on your feet again.”
For the next few hours, Bob walked up and down the hallways as the doctor shot videos.
“It made me feel good because I think it made his day,” Bob reminisced, smiling.
Zach is eager to see his father healed. Occasionally, Zach has a dream of Bob regaining one of his abilities. Some of his dreams have become realities, but he’s still waiting for one to come true.
“I had a dream where a lot of my immediate family was all gathered in the kitchen. I saw my dad walking down the hall without crutches or anything. I think he was going outside to start the car.”
Bob credits his progress to the staff at Mary Free Bed. He’s developed personal relationships with his therapists and chose to return for outpatient therapy, despite the drive from Holland.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this group. I wouldn’t be this far along emotionally or physically. It’s not just physical rehabilitation – it’s mental rehabilitation.”
Once a competitive athlete and dedicated worker, Bob hopes to completely regain his mobility so he can return to the game field and the workplace.
“I’ll bounce back,” he said, “I’ll get back on my feet. This is just a little hitch it my giddy-up!”