Active teen readjusts after paralyzing hunting accident

By DEBBIE GILBERT
The Times

Thomas "Jay" Harn is just 16, but he's had a passion for hunting since he was barely kindergarten age.
On Nov. 5, the Banks County High School student was doing what he loved best, deer hunting in Middle Georgia's Hancock County.
Then one misstep changed his life forever. Leaning out of a deer stand, he somehow fell forward, somersaulted in the air and landed on his back more than 10 feet below.
"At first I was so stunned I didn't know what happened," he said. "But right away I could tell that I couldn't feel my legs."
Harn was rushed to Children's Hospital in Macon, where tests confirmed his back was broken at the T12-L1 vertebrae, near his waistline. Because of spinal cord damage, signals from the lower half of his body could no longer reach his brain.
Surgeons inserted rods and pins to stabilize his spine, but the paralysis could not be reversed. Harn had to face the likelihood of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
He was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, one of the country's top facilities for treatment of brain and spinal cord injuries.
"The first week at Shepherd was really hard, but then it got a lot better," he said. "I realized I can't just lay in this bed my whole life. I have to go back to being the person I was before."
Mentally he was the same, but physically he was entering a whole new world.
Harn went through two months of rehabilitation to learn an array of new skills. How to maneuver a wheelchair and transfer in and out of it. How to dress and bathe himself. How to use a urinary catheter to empty his bladder every six hours. It may seem strange for a 16-year-old to have to learn such things. But Harn said it helped to see so many peers in the same predicament.
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