Greetings. Sorry for the radio silence from After Orange County lately. Let me explain why I’ve been M.I.A.

Three weeks ago tomorrow I got one of those calls every parent dreads. The caller ID said it was my youngest son calling, but the person on the line was not my son. Rather it was one of his ski buddies informing me that he was in an ambulance, accompanying my son to the Trauma Center at The University of Utah Medical Center.

WHY I'VE BEEN M.I.A. | University of Utah Medical Center | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

We had given our son Austin a ski trip to Utah as a birthday present. He wanted to visit his hometown skiing buddies who now go to college in Utah. The boys grew up together, racing on the Snow Summit Ski Race Team in Big Bear, California. Now, all 4 of them go to college in places where they can nourish their brains as well as their passion for skiing.  So, Austin traveled to Salt Lake City over his Spring Break from The University of Colorado at Boulder. He and his friends had a fantastic 4 days of skiing every resort in the Salt Lake area, with Austin doing what he loves best, shooting ski videos as he and his buddies perform the most hair raising, freestyle stunts. Take a look at this video Austin shot and edited while on his trip to Utah and you will see how ski accidents can happen. You can see Austin’s shadow and the tips of his skis as he follows his buddies down the slopes taking the video. On a side note, the last skier in the video is Jordan Romero, the youngest person ever to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. Austin calls him “Gordon Jomero” in the credits for fun.

So, as is often the case, Austin was skiing the very last run of the day on what was to have been his last day in Utah before coming home to California for Easter. The conditions were slushy when he and his friend hit a jump together, side-by-side. They had planned to do a simultaneous trick with Austin doing a front flip and his friend JM doing a backflip. Entering the jump too quickly, they both crashed. Austin’s friend landed without injury on his butt but Austin landed on his upper back, having over-rotated his front flip. Ironically, a friend standing by shot this photo of Austin at the very moment he knew things were going very wrong.

WHY I'VE BEEN M.I.A.| www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

WHY I'VE BEEN M.I.A.| www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

The crash resulted in Austin shattering 5 vertebrae in his upper back. A CT Scan, MRI and various X Rays determined that his injuries were very serious, but by a small miracle, his spinal cord was uneffected. That news was music to my ears, because of course when I heard the words “broken back” the first thing I thought of was, is he paralyzed?!!! It was decided that he would need surgery to fuse the broken vertebrae and because Austin was 18 years old, he was able to sign the medical release forms authorizing all of the medical procedures being performed. Brad and I caught the first plane to Salt Lake City, which agonizingly wasn’t until the following morning, and arrived at the hospital 15 minutes after they took him into surgery. My heart sunk as we arrived to find his hospital room empty and the name, “Trauma Caspian” written on the door. They explained to us later that when trauma patients arrive in the ER, they are assigned a name, just like they do with hurricanes.  It’s the way they can identify patients who don’t have time to “check in” through normal channels.

WHY I'VE BEEN M.I.A. | University of Utah Medical Center | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

WHY I'VE BEEN M.I.A. | University of Utah Medical Center | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

A very long 4 1/2 hours later the surgeon came out to tell us that Austin’s surgery was a success. He explained that although he would have a very long and painful recovery, in about 6 months Austin would be good as new, albeit with 12 screws, several plates and 2 long metal rods in his back. The worst news was that Austin wouldn’t be able to return to school in Colorado to finish the semester, as he would not be able to care for himself for at least 6 weeks. That meant coming home with us to California after a week-long recovery period in the hospital. Brad and I spent every waking moment with him in the hospital, learning from the doctors, nurses and physical therapists how to care for him. All we saw of Salt Lake City was the lovely view from Austin’s hospital room. And all day long we watched a steady stream of medevac helicopters land on the roof, filling the hospital with many other victims of ski accidents. As the doctors said, “Tis the Season.”  As a result, The University of Utah Medical Center is one of the finest Orthopedic Hospitals in the country. So, if you have to have a ski accident, this is the place to do it.

WHY I'VE BEEN M.I.A. | University of Utah Medical Center | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Finally, on Easter Sunday, which also happened to be Austin’s 19th birthday, we were able to take him home with us. The journey began with a terrific Uber driver that got us and all our luggage & ski equipment safely to the airport.

WHY I'VE BEEN M.I.A.| www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

A wheelchair ride through the airport and the very nice folks at Delta Airlines got Austin onto the small plane where we were able to book 3, First Class tickets in row 1 of the aircraft.

Wheelchair to plane

Austin got settled into his seat before any other passengers boarded the plane and managed an awkward smile for this photo. While I’m usually the one with the camera, taking photos was the last thing on my mind.  My husband, however, had the presence of mind to take all of the photos you see in this blog post. He thought Austin would enjoy having a record of this journey and all that he had endured. I’m glad he did.

WHY I'VE BEEN M.I.A.| www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Now I’m learning what it takes to be a caregiver and I have a whole new appreciation for what is involved. My new job description is Nurse, Physical Therapist, Short Order Cook and College Tutor, with Blogger dropping to the very end of the list. I have never gotten so much exercise in my own home, running up and down the stairs to his bedroom all day long. Nor have I ever gotten so little sleep. Like a friend said to me today, “Now you know why sleep deprivation is a form of torture.” And just as Brad and I were beginning to enjoy our empty nest, we now have what has felt like a newborn baby under our roof. Instead of nighttime feedings and diaper changes I’m getting up to make sure my son takes his medication on time. But, while caregiving isn’t easy, I keep reminding myself that what my son is going through is far, far worse. His world has been turned upside down, he is in agonizing pain at times, and he is away from school, friends and his dorm room which he now considers home. So, I have nothing at all to complain about. It’s a transition for all of us and we will get through it. Austin is making daily progress, and every day gets better, with today being a particularly good day. In fact, that’s why I was finally able to sit down and write this blog post. I hope you’ll stick with me while I forge my way through this new reality. I have every hope of being able to get back to my desk and share my life After Orange County with you.

In closing I thought I’d share this inspirational ABC News report about Austin’s friend, Jordan Romero’s successful climb to the summit of Mount Everest at age 13. Now 19 and training for his next climb, Jordan’s fortitude, bravery and hard work is an inspiration to Austin and our family to keep the faith and keep forging ahead, even when the pain and the agony of life’s setbacks want to pull you down.

Click on the play button below, then on the link “Watch on Youtube” to view.

So there you have it:  WHY  I’VE  BEEN  M.I.A.

You might also like: 10 Reasons It’s Better to be a Soccer Mom Than A Ski Racer Mom


The Benefits of Being A Ski Racer Mom


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All opinions expressed in this post are my own. Unless otherwise credited, all photos are the original property of Celia Becker @ www.AfterOrangeCounty.com and may not be reproduced without specific permission.