Chagnon walking with assistance; talking next step
By Jason Shoot
Believers in superstition often deplore the approach of Friday the 13th on the calendar, and yet that day seems ordinarily to pass without incident.
But for Ryan Chagnon and his sister, Jessica, one particular Friday the 13th April 13th, to be precise was marked by a horrifying incident and provided those two with a day that will never be forgotten.
Ryan, driving his 1997 Chevy Blazer, had just received his embroidered letterman jacket he earned after a successful campaign during Havre High's state-championship wrestling season.
Jessica, 19, wanted to try it on for herself, so Ryan pulled over at an intersection at N. 31st Street and Highway 232 north of Havre to let her wear it.
The 20 seconds it took to swap the jacket nearly cost them both their lives.
Unable to see a fast-approaching car on the highway because of a field obstructing his view, Ryan pulled out and was slammed by an oncoming car. The impact spun the Blazer out of control and ejected Ryan from the vehicle.
"(The Blazer) spun toward a ditch, and the tires grabbed and flipped them over," Ryan's dad, Wayne, said.
Ryan, who hadn't fastened his seat belt, landed face down in a ditch before his Blazer rolled over and landed on top of him. The vehicle left his legs exposed, but pushed the upper half of his body into the soft ground and suffocated him.
"His whole upper body was underneath it," Wayne, said. "The ground was soft, and it gave way some," allowing the car to sink and push Ryan's head down.
Ryan's friend, Matt Springer, was close behind and used his two-way radio to call for help. The call alerted area residents and volunteer firefighters, and within minutes Ryan's dad and several other people were on the scene working to free Ryan from under the 3,000-pound vehicle.
"We tied a rope to the Blazer, but every time we tried to roll it over, it would start to spin, and we'd have to re-set it," Wayne said.
Meanwhile, Jessica had suffered major lacerations on her head and several fractures in her right forearm. The cuts would later require 300 stitches at Northern Montana Hospital (NMH) and pins and plates were inserted into her arm to firmly fasten her bones together.
After 8 to 10 minutes had passed, the Blazer was finally lifted enough for a fireman to reach under and pull Ryan, who was unconscious, away from the accident.
He was then rushed to NMH, where doctors suggested he be transported by helicopter to Benefis East in Great Falls. There, neurologists and other specialists could begin determining just what Ryan's chances of surviving were.
"We took off before they took him (to Great Falls), and by the time we got there he was already hooked up," Wayne said. "One guy, a neurologist, said he was very critical."
Ryan, a Havre High junior, lay comatose for four days and two hours before his eyes began fluttering while his parents were talking to him, Wayne said.
"I told (Ryan's mom) Ginger, He's trying to open his eyes, keep talking.' We had a four-page letter we were reading, and when we got done reading it, his eyes opened," Wayne said. "He woke up in a panic, but we started talking to him, and everything went back to normal."
The day before Ryan awoke from his coma, doctors told the Chagnon parents Ryan's condition was not improving much. "They told us Sunday, if I remember the day right, it was pretty grim and didn't look too good unless something drastic happened."
That something drastic certainly happened, and Ryan is now on his way back to recovery.
He still can't talk the tubes that had been placed down his throat kept him from swallowing for weeks but he is walking with the help of a harness that holds him up and allows him to move his legs.
"It's a waiting game," Wayne said. "He's improved, and they've got him up walking. It's a matter of time before he gets his balance.
"In two weeks we hope he can walk with a walker, and another week and a half after that walk with some help."
He has also been moved to a bed that is 8 feet by 8 feet, allowing him to move more freely and continue to gather his motor skills, Wayne said.
His intravenous tubes will be removed tonight, and then the recovery process will be in full effect.
"We know he's going to walk and talk," Wayne said. "He's alert, and he's going to come out of it OK."
Because of the shape he was in from wrestling and all the weight-lifting, cardiovascular work and conditioning that goes along with that sport, Ryan's recovery will likely be quicker than for someone who, perhaps, is older and out of shape.
"Conditioning was his biggest plus," Wayne said. "He came out of the coma so fast, he's young and in superb shape."
A fund-raising dinner is in the works to help the family pay for medical expenses, and Wayne had a lot of people to say thanks to.
"I've got to thank Matt Springer and his mom, Kim," Wayne said. "They were instrumental in Ryan being here. And thanks to all the people who responded to the scene, and the community for all the cards and prayers."
Wayne said the highway dips down briefly under a hill, and it makes it impossible to see oncoming traffic for a brief amount of time.
"There's a blind spot there, and cars get into this dip and you can't see them," Wayne said. "We want to get that changed. Cars only have two seconds to stop, and at 70 miles per hour they can't do it."
Wayne also said the accident has convinced many people to make sure they buckle their seat belts when driving.
"People have been telling us they're wearing them around town," he said.
"Accidents can happen anywhere, anytime."