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Lake Norman mishap leaves N.C. State student paralyzed

By Katie Scarvey
Salisbury PostIt was a typical fourth of July scenario ó a group of friends hanging out on a boat at Lake Norman, having fun, waiting to watch fireworks. Adam Haynes, a 22-year-old student at North Carolina State, was among the group of six.
The boat had drifted near a sandbar and there was talk of pushing it off.
“I’ll get it” ó that’s what Adam Haynes’ friends remember him saying before he dove into the water.
Garrett Gardner was on the other side of the boat when he heard someone say something might be wrong with Adam.
Initially, they thought that Adam ó who seemed to be in a dead-man’s float ó was fooling around, Garrett said.
Garrett, who has known Adam since they attended Salisbury High together, called his friend’s name three times. Adam didn’t respond.
Garrett jumped in, feet first, to make sure Adam was OK. That’s when Garrett realized that the water was only 18 inches deep. Suspecting that Adam had been knocked unconscious, Garrett carefully lifted Adam’s head out of the water.
Adam was coughing out lake water but he was conscious and alert; he thanked Garrett for pulling him out.
As Garrett struggled to help Adam back to the boat, he told Adam that he’d need to help. Adam said he couldn’t move.
Somehow, they managed to pull Adam, who is 6-foot-3-inches tall, back into the boat.
Adam kept saying he needed a doctor, something was wrong. He couldn’t feel his arms or legs.
No one in the group had a cellphone to call 911 so they decided to drive Adam to Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville, about 10 minutes away.
“We were trying to stay calm,” Garrett said.
“I kept trying to get him to squeeze my hand, but he couldn’t.”
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Debbie Haynes, Adam’s mother, had been having a great Fourth of July hanging out at her apartment’s pool with her mother, Betty DeHart, her sister, Kim Pryor, and three of Kim’s children ó Jake, Katie and Jamie. She was looking forward to spending time with 19 family members, including Adam, on their annual beach trip in three days.
Everyone had gone home and Debbie was in bed when her phone rang. It was 11:57 p.m.
Adam had been in a boating accident, she was told. It was serious.
She gathered a few things and headed for Carolinas Medical Center with her mother.
In the days to follow, dozens of Adam’s friends and family members ó siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins ó descended upon the hospital, says Kim, Adam’s aunt.
“I think we kind of overwhelmed Carolinas Medical Center,” she says.
Adam was in a tough position, but he certainly wasn’t lacking support.
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Vernon Haynes, Adam’s father, was in Belize on a business trip when he got the call about his son’s accident.
It took him an agonizing two days to make his way back to North Carolina from Central America.
By the time he arrived, Adam had already had surgery.
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When Adam dove into water much shallower than he realized, the impact shattered the C5 vertebra in his neck. In a 3 1/2 hour operation, a neurosurgeon carefully removed the fragments of the destroyed vertebra and implanted a titanium cage to stabilize his spinal column.
There was good news, though: Adam’s spinal cord had not been severed, which doctors had originally feared.
Betty DeHart, Adam’s grandmother, remembers what the surgeon told them: “I’ve done all the surgery I can; now it’s up to God.” nnn
Adam’s body was healing well after the surgery, but several days later, the effects of the bacteria-filled lake water began to complicate his recovery in a way no one anticipated. His lungs collapsed, and his temperature soared to 105 while the infection raged.
Respiratory therapists sprang into action, bagging Adam, helping him breathe with a hand-held device used to provide ventilation manually to a patient who is not breathing adequately.
It was touch and go. Debbie and Vernon were told that things did not look good.
“They just kept going,” says Debbie of the therapists who stood by Adam’s bedside, for eight hours, squeezing air into his lungs. “They wouldn’t give up.”
Later that day, Adam was put into a medically induced coma and put on a RotoProne bed, which is typically used as a last resort for patients with acute lung injuries.
The machine rotated Adam 180 degrees from lying on his back to lying on his abdomen, as well as rotating him from side to side. Using the force of gravity, the machine is designed to break up secretions in the lungs and help them re-expand.
“He looked a like a chicken on a rotisserie, says Debbie, who hasn’t lost her sense of humor.
Adam hasn’t lost his either, according to Garrett, who says that sometimes when he visits, Adam will crack jokes just like he always did. Other times, however, his frustration is evident.
With Adam’s survival no longer the pressing concern, the emotional issues surrounding his devastating injury are surfacing.
Her son feels trapped, Debbie says, and is struggling with depression.
Thursday afternoon, however, Adam and his family got a huge boost.
His condition had improved enough that he could be transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a catastrophic care hospital that is one of the top facilities in the country for spinal cord injuries.
At 7:30 a.m. Thursday, he had been breathing on his own for 48 hours ó one of the major requirements for admission to the center.
Debbie believes that once Adam begins rehab ó and meets others with similar challenges, including those who have overcome those challenges ó his emotional outlook will improve.
The family is optimistic that Adam will be able to walk again, and there is reason for hope.
Adam can move his arms, although he can’t control his hands well yet. “Fine motor skills are the last to come back,” Debbie explains. He is able to feel sensation in his stomach area, which is a good sign. Also encouraging, Debbie says, is that Adam says he can feel his toes when she rubs lotion on his feet.
There is still a lot of swelling from the C4 to C6 vertebrae, but with time, the swelling and bruising should go down.
“When the bruising heals, he may regain some things,” Debbie says.
Doctors don’t want to give a time frame for healing, Debbie says. “The neurosurgeon says it’s up to Adam,” Debbie says.
She tries to be patient with the recovery process.
“When I was pregnant, I wanted nine months to be done in a day,” she says. “And when your child is broken, you want them fixed now.”
“I’m praying for patience,” she says. “I know there’s a plan I’m not privy to.”
“I was an emotional wreck for days,” says Vernon. “I finally found the strength to put myself together. There was a lot of fear, but once good things start happening, your faith grows.”
Adam’s sister Lindsey is keeping a journal of the experience, and the whole family, including Adam’s older brother Jimmy, contributes to it.
“We’ll let him read it when he’s ready,” Debbie says.
Debbie has taken a leave of absence from her teaching job at Salisbury High so she can be with Adam in Atlanta.
The family is encouraged by hearing stories about miracles happening at the Shepherd Clinic, accounts of people who have had fractures similar to Adam’s who are walking now.
But even if Adam doesn’t regain use of his legs, Debbie says everything will be OK: “I’m just so grateful to have him.”
Adam and his family are also grateful for Garrett’s presence of mind in getting Adam out of the water that Fourth of July night. The surgeon reassured the family that nothing Adam’s friends did that night in moving him made matters worse ó the damage he sustained happened at the moment of impact.
Betty says that she prays for complete restoration for her grandson but expects God’s will to be done. Every day, she asks God to give her “one little bit of encouragement today.”
And every day, she gets just that, she says.
Adam’s goal is simple. He wants to walk again. Now that he’s at the Shepherd Center, the hard work begins.
Those who know Adam are confident he can face the daunting task ahead.
“He’s a fighter,” Debbie says.
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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