Indiana Teen Paralyzed in Tree-Climbing Accident Makes 'Miracle' Recovery: I Wasn't 'Able to Move'
A 14-year-old boy from Indiana who was left paralyzed after a tree-climbing accident stunned both his doctors and his family as he made a miraculous recovery and learned to walk again.
Alex Kingsbury, of Columbus, Indiana, remembers climbing to the top of a tree outside his uncle’s house on October 1, 2017, and swinging his legs over a branch in the hopes that it would bend and give him a ride down to the ground. (The unsafe act is called tree parachuting.)
But when he was about 15 to 20 feet up in the air, the tree unexpectedly snapped, quickly sending Alex to the ground.
“I broke my neck and I remember waking up and not being able to move anything,” Alex tells PEOPLE. “It was the worst feeling ever. I kept asking why I couldn’t move anything.”
After being airlifted to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Alex and his family were told that he had an incomplete spinal cord injury at his C6 vertebrae.
Dr. Jeffrey Raskin, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the hospital, says Alex’s paralysis was so severe that if he didn’t improve within the first 72 hours there was only a 10 percent chance that he’d ever walk again.
But “he improved dramatically after surgery,” says Dr. Raskin, adding that it’s “not common” for most people who have that type of fracture.
Alex’s mother, Mindy, who along with her family didn’t leave his side, says that the first few days and weeks after the accident were “totally surreal.”
“You know your life is changing in that minute and you can’t comprehend how big it is,” she says. “He was unable to move and it very devastating. During the first few days he had a tube down his throat and had a difficult time talking. I told him I would learn his facial expressions so I knew what he needed.”
Alex spent 45 days in the hospital and stunned everyone around him as he made small improvements every day. He went from a week in the intensive care unit to gaining back movement on the right side of his body and then being able to make a few steps with the assistance of two people holding him up.
“I am so thankful that I was able to walk out of the hospital,” says Alex, who was discharged on November 15. “I was using a cane, but it felt really good.”
Mindy calls it a “miracle” and that there is not one day that goes by that don’t feel grateful.
“We don’t take this lightly,” she says. “There were a lot of people in rehab [with Alex] who didn’t get to walk again.”
She adds: “We’re a family of faith. Alex has big things ahead cheer him on. We always knew he was a really strong kid but I am blown away by his tenacity.”