Overcoming obstacles with optimism
Diagnosis: Spinal fracture
Treatment: Spine surgery
It was a beautiful summer day, heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Woodinville resident Mike McHenry decided to take advantage of the sunny weather with a ride at Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park in Issaquah.
But what started as a day of recreation suddenly turned into the most harrowing experience of the 60-year-old's life.
After a quick warm-up, Mike had split off from a friend to explore the park’s technical trails when he approached a series of five jumps; each one taking him higher before landing at the end of the ramps on the wooded trail.
He gained the right momentum and set off on the first, then second, then third - then everything went wrong.
From about 8 feet in the air and still on his bike, Mike came crashing down virtually headfirst onto the forest floor.
"I knew I'd been hurt pretty bad"
“Immediately, I knew I’d been hurt pretty bad,” Mike recalled. “I rolled over, but was numb from head to toe, and just started screaming for help.”
With his friend out of earshot, a passer-by heard Mike's cries and called 911.
The first responders soon arrived and, knowing that a spinal injury was probable, expertly stabilized Mike before transporting him to emergency care.
After a diagnostic MRI, EvergreenHealth’s renowned orthopedic spine surgeon and neurosurgeons Dr. Mark Freeborn and Dr. Shiveindra Jeyamohan confirmed the extent of Mike's injuries: a shattered collar bone, several broken ribs, bleeding in his lungs, a fracture of his C2 vertebrae in his neck, and a thoracic spinal fracture.
“We began surgery very carefully because of the high degree of risk involved in Mike’s case,” Dr. Jeyamohan described. “Because of our close collaboration with his ICU doctors, we were aware of a major complication that could have put his life at risk in the operating room. Any miscommunication could have had severe consequences.”
Lucky to be alive
Mike McHenry was lucky to be alive, but he wasn’t out of the woods - cervical and thoracic spinal fractures are extremely severe traumas that require surgical treatment from a team of highly skilled spine surgeons. A minute misstep in the procedure could result in permanent paralysis, or worse.
During surgery, Mike became critically ill as his lungs stopped expanding. Reacting quickly, Drs. Jeyamohan and Freeborn cut into his chest to relieve the pressure building in his lungs.
After five hours on the operating table, Drs. Jeyamohan and Freeborn, supported by a multidisciplinary team of specialists, completed a successful surgery, placing several titanium screws and rods to stabilize Mike's spine and protect his spinal cord from irreversible damage.
Road to rehabilitation
The road to recovery, however, was just beginning. Mike was prescribed four weeks of inpatient rehabilitation in EvergreenHealth’s Acute Rehabilitation Unit, a recently renovated department that brings state-of-the-art rehabilitative resources together in a homelike setting, allowing patients to regain practical skills they’ll need for independence.
Mike became immersed in intensive therapy, spending at least three hours each day on rehab exercises throughout his stay.
Along with following his prescribed rehab plan, Mike described routine, meaningful visits from his surgical team, EMTs, family members and friends as providing the motivation he needed to recover.
"I believe I’m alive today because of the care from every single one of my providers,” Mike explained. “They helped me keep my attitude up and took such a personal interest in my care. I am incredibly touched by their caring and kindness.”
Today, Mike McHenry is on the path to a full recovery - a truly incredible feat given the extent of his injuries.
In November, Dr. Jeyamohan cleared him for increased activity and he returned to Duthie Hill Park and took his first spin on two wheels since the accident. It was emotional and exhilarating all at once.
“I think I’ll avoid the jumps,” Mike said from his bike with a smile.