I’m expecting big things out of Boone Bartlome in 2014. In Boone’s case, however, big is a relative term. I’m hoping to see his right foot move, for instance. I hope the next time I see him, he’ll be able to shake my hand. I’ll say some prayers to that extent this month. I know how far he’s come already, but there’s still lots of progress to be made by the 16-year-old cowboy in this new year.
I visited the timed-event hand from Idaho’s District 2 on Dec. 17 at Craig Hospital here in Denver. He’d arrived there just before Thanksgiving after suffering a broken neck on a freak play as his Kuna Kavemen played Bishop Kelly in the first round of the state playoffs on Nov. 8. The bitter rivals came together for a prayer on the field as Boone was placed on a stretcher and driven away just minutes into the game.
“Just a few minutes before that, I was rocked on a kick return,” Boone recalls. “I got right up from that. When I got hurt, it really didn’t look that bad. I never lost consciousness, but it was the weirdest feeling as I was falling down. I was falling and sort of flipping onto my back, but it felt like I was floating.”
A knee to the helmet as he was making a block did the damage. Boone suffered a broken C-4 vertebrae and a cracked C-5. He’s since had a titanium plate fused into his neck. At first, he had no feeling from the neck down. Within a few days he’d regained feeling in his arms, but still battles to use his hands.
“We were sitting here just the other day and I asked him to squeeze my hand,” said his dad, Shane, who serves as the adult president of District 2. “When he did, at first I thought it was just a spasm or something. That left hand is starting to come around.”
Boone’s left side in general seems to be ahead of the right side. He can move his left foot, as well. The right side is apparently going to need more time to heal. He was hoping to rid himself of the neck brace he’s been sporting within a week of my visit.
Boone, his dad and his mom, Dianna, traveled to Denver because Craig Hospital is a leading institution when it comes to rehabbing spinal cord and head injuries.
“What they’re doing is teaching him to do what he can do at this point,” Shane says. “We don’t really know what will come back and what won’t. So they’re working with what he can do.”
Boone spends eight hours each day in various rehab treatments and education classes. He’s also heard from his teachers back home. They gave him a break last semester, but he won’t be so lucky in the new year.
“It’s the first time in my life I wish I could go to school,” Boone joked, adding that it’s hard to be patient as they wait for the swelling in his spinal cord to subside. “I broke my hand roping calves last year and was out six weeks. It felt like forever. I really want my hands to come back. You don’t realize how much you need your hands until you can’t do anything with them.”
While Boone tries to patiently work his way through rehab, his friends and family back home aren’t sitting around either. They’ve organized a handful of fundraisers to help defray his medical expenses. One coach at his high school even ran 42 miles in a 10-hour runathon to help raise money. The family hopes to leave Craig Hospital and return home to Idaho by the end of February.
“He has what they call an incomplete injury, since the spinal cord wasn’t severed,” Shane says. “With these types of injuries, there’s really no way to know what you will or won’t get back. There’s no prognosis on it. He just has to keep working everyday.”
Cards and letters of encouragement for Boone can be sent to: Craig Hospital, 3425 S Clarkson St., Englewood, CO 80113.
Updates are posted regularly on a special facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/boone.bartlome.3
To learn more about how you can help, please visit: http://kunafootball.jrerickson.com/boone/