Deer Hunter Perseveres After Accident; Cautions Fellow Hunters
December 3, 2013
The Botts family: Rickenia, Baylor, 5 months,
Bryor, age 3, and Darrin
The return of firearms deer hunting season means hunters will be out in full force – but an increasing number of them will end up in the ER without even firing a shot.
“Every year in our county, we have injuries related to hunting from either weather, falling from a tree stand, guns accidentally discharging, knife injuries or an accidental shooting by a hunting partner,” said Patti Doncouse, director of the Emergency Department at Mercy Hospital Independence. “Some of them make it to the ER. Some do not.”
Independence resident Darrin Botts learned a hard lesson about what can happen when even an experienced hunter relaxes his safety standards.
It was opening day of bow hunting season eight years ago. Darrin was hunting with a buddy and setting up a tree stand, as he had done many times before.
“While going up the tree, the stand gave way,” explained Darrin’s wife, Rickenia, manager of the Mercy Health for Life fitness center in Independence. “He usually wore a safety harness, but thinking the set-up would be quick and easy, he didn’t put one on this time.”
Darrin fell approximately 20 feet to the ground, landing on his neck and shoulders but impacting his lower back, which broke at the T-10 and T-11 vertebrae and his spinal cord was severed.
“He knew right away it was bad,” said Rickenia. “He had no feeling in his lower body, but nerve pain above was excruciating.”
Darrin’s hunting partner immediately summoned help. The second call was to Rickenia, who had just become Darrin’s fiancée a couple of months before.
Darrin was life-flighted from the scene of the accident to a Wichita hospital and later transferred to a Colorado rehabilitation facility where he would spend the next three months.
Darrin’s accident was life-changing for the couple. They had just begun wedding plans and had recently built a new house together. They were both fitness enthusiasts. Only 34 years old and an avid outdoorsman, Darrin’s prognosis was that he would never walk again.
“I remember just before they loaded him on the helicopter, he told me, ‘You won’t want to marry me now,’” Rickenia recalled. “My response was, ‘Yes, I will! I fell in love with YOU, not your legs!’”
The goal for Darrin’s rehab was to help him become independent, she explained.
“He had to start completely over…from learning how to balance while sitting up in bed to learning how to go to the bathroom to how to use a wheelchair and how that would affect his daily routines.”
Lifestyle modifications included adding hand controls to Darrin’s vehicles so that he could drive without legs, and some relatively minor remodeling to the house to allow for mobility.
Rickenia kept her promise, and the couple married the following summer, just nine months after the accident. And while adapting to life with paralysis has not been without significant challenges, the power of positive thinking has helped them persevere.
“Darrin always chose to look on the bright side of things,” said Rickenia. “We learned through the whole process we had to find humor in everything. There was nothing we could do about the situation, so we had to find the best in everything we could.”
The biggest bright spots for the couple in the last few years have been the births of two beautiful sons, 3-year-old Bryor and 5-month-old Baylor.
A by-product of Darrin’s experience has been the opportunity to inspire and encourage others who have experienced similar injuries, including a teenage boy from Independence recently injured in an ATV accident and sent to the same rehab hospital.
“Darrin has touched so many lives, he has no idea,” Rickenia said. “Through this journey, we met so many wonderful people that we would not have met had this not happened. The most rewarding thing is knowing we went through this tragedy and came out on top.”
Darrin is still deer hunting today, using a ground blind instead of a tree stand, and shares a message with fellow hunters. “Under no circumstances should you start up a tree without a safety harness,” Rickenia said. “In his mind, he had climbed trees hundreds of times and this time was going to be quick and easy. He never thought it would happen to him.”
More information on hunting and tree stand safety is available by visiting the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism website, http://bit.ly/KSTreeStandSafety.