Noah Barbknecht and his dad, Jason, have a turkey hunting trip planned in April in southern Ohio.
That might not seem very remarkable, except for the fact that Noah now is in intensive care in a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta. A Christmas Eve skiing accident in New York state left him paralyzed from the breastbone down.
Jason is optimistic that, within about 10 weeks, Noah will be rehabilitated to the point they can return home to Fort Wayne. Both are avid hunters and when asked if Noah will be able to resume the sport, his dad says, “Oh, absolutely.” Noah may not be able to walk, but he still has the use of his arms and hands for holding a shotgun or a bow.
Jason has been with his son since the Christmas Eve accident, but may come home to Fort Wayne for a few days in February for a benefit for Noah. The Northrop High School Football Booster Club is planning a Bruin Benefit for Noah on Feb. 9. Noah's mother, Sandi, recently returned to her job in Fort Wayne.
The accident happened about 11 a.m. Christmas Eve, Jason recalled. Noah was skiing “really fast” down a green slope when he got onto an area that should have been roped off, where there wasn't any snow.
“His skis stopped, and he kept going,” Jason said, estimating he was going 30 mph when he hit a small ditch.
Noah was taken to a hospital at the ski resort, and then airlifted to a hospital in Albany, N.Y.
He had sustained multiple facial fractures, a broken neck, broken ribs and a spinal fracture that left him paralyzed from the breastbone down.
Jason said they won't know for a few more weeks if Noah will regain any movement, but said in the “worst-case scenario he will regain nothing from the breastbone down.”
About two weeks after the accident, when Noah wasn't so heavily drugged, Jason sat down with him and explained the extent of his injuries. He took the news well.
“Noah has never cried once about this,” Jason said.
His attitude has been upbeat, even in the early days. The first thing he was able to write down was, “Buenos dias.” When his dad told him it was Christmas Day, Noah wrote, “Feliz Navidad.”
And instead of complaining about the pain, one day shortly after the accident he wrote, “Pain only makes me stronger.”
Still, it hasn't been all smooth going. “There's been some rough days,” Jason said. “It's pretty devastating when you think about it.”
Noah's spirits have been good but “he's mostly frustrated,” Jason said.
They have to wait for all the critical injuries to heal before he can really start rehabilitation. The football player, who was bench-pressing nearly 200 pounds before the accident, has himself lost 30 pounds of what his dad said is muscle mass.
Jason taught his son a simple phrase when he was 10 — “one more step” — that is becoming a motto on the road to recovery.
As Jason tells the story, the two were climbing a hill in Tennessee on a hog hunt. About three-quarters of the way up the hill, Noah said he couldn't go any farther. Jason urged him to look at the ground — not the top of the hill — and take just one more step. Then another, and another. Pretty soon, he was at the top of the hill.
Jason sees Noah's recovery similarly. He has huge obstacles to overcome, but he need not look at the end point, but rather the next step in the process.
As a civilian technician at the 122nd Fighter Wing, Jason is using sick time and annual leave to stay with Noah in Atlanta. Also, other employees of the 122nd can donate leave to him, so he doesn't need to worry about getting back to his job anytime soon.
The Barbknechts have already put their house up for sale and are looking to rent until they can build a house that is completely wheelchair accessible.