The Abrahams Return to Tahoe after three months at Craig hospital in Denver.
Progress has been slow yet tangible for Jason “A-Bro” Abraham, a well-known local action sport photographer who fractured his C6/C7 vertebrae on April 9 while skiing at Squaw Valley.
Now, over three months later, Jason is working full time on recovering and staying positive, but a long path is still ahead. He can now use his hands and arms but cannot move anything from the chest down, though he has full sensation from his chest to his toes.
Nevertheless, the family remains optimistic that full recovery will come. In the meantime, they are staying focused on day-to-day life while also planning their return to Tahoe. Jason will be discharged from Craig Hospital in Denver on July 16, a day after his 36th birthday.
“It’s been a long road but even just recently when I went away [from the hospital] for a week, when I came back I was amazed at the progress in that short amount of time,” said Kate Abraham of her husband’s progress.
Kate also points out that the concept of progress doesn’t have to equate to something like an increase in the use of his hands, but can have as much to do with mental strength or other gains.
“We believe there is some luck involved in terms of the mobility side and what connects and what movement comes back,” Kate said. “The biggest improvements I have seen over this process are in his mind, health, and strength.”
Kate has been at the hospital with Jason most of the time since the accident, taking photos of Jason under his expert tutelage and updating friends and family through her blog,walkwithmedad.com.
The injury came when he was exiting Main Chute in the Palisades and picked up unexpected speed after making a few turns. He was unable to slow down before hitting the traverse, where his friends were waiting, and caught an edge and fell hard.
Two weeks after the injury, Jason was moved from Renown Hospital in Reno to Craig Hospital, a facility that specializes in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. He stays busy by working out five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The program includes weight lifting classes; occupational, physical, and manual therapies; using a functional electrical stimulation bike; and more. Once a week for about 30 minutes he utilizes a standing frame to help keep blood flowing, keep muscles from atrophying, maintain bone integrity, and strengthen the cardiovascular system.
“He’s been working hard; he has a positive attitude, but we can’t jump too far ahead of ourselves and have to accept where we are on each given day,” Kate said.
The Community Effort
Jason took root in the Tahoe community through his photography career and became known in skiing circles and beyond for his positive attitude, professional work, and signature afro. He founded Elevated Image Photography in 2005, and has worked on countless photography projects in Tahoe and elsewhere since.
Soon after the injury, the Truckee High Fives Foundation became involved, using its empowerment grants to help cover massage and acupuncture costs, as well as helping with the transport bill to Craig Hospital.
“They’re just amazing human beings,” Roy Tuscany, co-founder of High Fives, said of Jason and Kate. “So when this happened it really hit home.”
Jason had done photography work for High Fives before the injury and Tuscany and the Abrahams were close friends. Tuscany even served as the officiant at their wedding.
“When it’s someone you’ve known for a long time and you’re able to see the positives in the recovery it makes you feel good about the work you do,” said Tuscany. High Fives also helped secure a grant that will allow the family to remodel their Alpine Meadows home to accommodate Jason’s wheelchair, and organized a benefit dinner for him in April, which raised $27,910 to fund his rehabilitation.
Additionally, a crowd-sourced YouCaring campaign was set up immediately after the accident, which has raised nearly $60,000 to cover medical costs, and Kate and High Fives are working on extending that campaign as the best way to channel the offers for donations.
While at Craig, Tuscany helped coordinate a network of people with spinal cord injuries, some of whom are involved with High Fives, who could offer the perspective of being in his shoes. In addition, the fiancée of one of Abro’s physical therapists, a man named Eric Hjeltnes who has been a quadriplegic for nine years, has served as a mentor. He volunteers at the gym at Craig and “helps Jason around the gym and gives advice on how he handles everyday life in a wheelchair,” Kate said.
On July 16 the Abraham family — Abro, Kate, and their 4-year-old son Ebbett — are planning to leave Craig Hospital and return to Tahoe.
“We are pretty homesick and want to come back to Tahoe, and now we are figuring out how we’re going to get back to life there,” Kate said. “We are coming back to a world that we’ve known for years but in a completely different way.”
To help remodel their home and make it wheelchair accessible, the Ryan Group, a Truckee architectural firm, has donated time to draw plans for the house, and a grant from High Fives will help cover costs. Gurnea Construction in Reno will also donate their time for the modifications.
Once in Tahoe, Jason will begin work with a hand specialist, as well as setting up an exercise program with High Fives at its healing center in Truckee.
Kate reports that her husband is interested in returning to his photography work and is considering getting into drone photography. While at Craig, Jason took a tech lab class where he received help in modifying his computer and camera equipment so he is able to use it.
After a few months in Tahoe the plan is to reevaluate, with the possibility of returning to Craig or a different facility, depending on Jason’s progress at that point.
“We don’t know when, but we definitely believe progress will happen,” Kate said.