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Jace has been competing in rodeo since he was nine years old and is incredibly accomplished: He is an Alberta champion, a Canadian champion and a two-time-national qualifier. But even champions aren’t immune to accidents. On Aug. 26, 2015 Jace was practicing team roping (Lassoing a steer while on horseback) near Stettler when his horse, Moon, tripped causing him to fall and hit his head on the ground before rolling over top of him. Neil rushed to his son’s side. Jace was not breathing. His eyes were open but unresponsive. Neil frantically searched for a pulse and after what felt like eternity, Jace gasped for air, but was in a fight for his life.
He was taken by ground ambulance to Red Deer and then flown to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Neil and Jamie followed by car and when they arrived they were met by a social worker, which Jamie says was when the severity of Jace’s condition struck her. Jace was taken straight into the PICU where specialists began running tests and hooked him up to electrodes to monitor his brain activity. In the coming days, his parents would sit down with Dr. Esser and Dr. Ross to see a scan of their son’s brain, where white spots showed the damaged and bleeding areas. Neil says it was then that he realized his son might not make it.
Jace was in ICU for nine days, intubated and in a neck brace. Finally, he was stable enough to be moved to Unit 4, where he began the long and difficult road to recovery. After not being able to speak for over a month, he relied heavily on the hospital’s speech therapy team to help him learn to talk again. Wheelchair-bound, he would have to undergo extensive physiotherapy to try and regain some movement. But Jace was determined, as were his parents and all of the specialists at the hospital. Jamie and Neil said they were surprised by and so appreciative of how the team encouraged them to be part of Jace’s recovery – from letting them observe the rounds to engaging them in all of his therapies.
On one wall in Jace’s room was a calendar, in which his family would write down his biggest accomplishments each day. Over the course of several weeks, the accomplishments evolved from blowing a dandelion and eating half his lunch to moving his left leg, then practicing roping a toy cow from his wheelchair and getting day passes. On another wall was a whiteboard with phrases like “Can’t Quit! Keep Going!” and all of his goals to keep him focused and determined on getting better.