In the trauma ward of Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Travis Amick was lying in a bed with a tracheal tube and monitoring wires trailing from his body. He couldn't move his arms or legs and he struggled to communicate, because the strained muscles in his neck blocked his airway. Family and friends could only visit for 30 minutes at a time. This is how a former local soccer star spent his 24th birthday.
"It's crazy to see how I went from being so coordinated to having to work just to lift my arm," said Amick, on the phone, using a hands-free headset.
Amick attended St. Anne's School in Lodi and St. Mary's High School in Stockton, where he excelled at soccer. After graduation in 2006, he joined the military to train as a Navy SEAL. His training took him to Pensacola, Fla., but also resulted in an injured shoulder and foot that forced him to leave the Navy.
He was already down South, though, so he moved to New Orleans to be near his brother Jason Amick and some Navy buddies. Amick got a job at a restaurant and played on three soccer teams.
But the life he was creating for himself took an unexpected turn.
Amick was returning home from a party with a few friends and his dog, Bronson. They stopped at a gas station. While filling up the car, a friend dared Amick to climb a structure across the street. He had climbed it before, so Amick was confident in his strength and coordination. But it was dark, and they all had had a few drinks. This time, Amick's foot slipped.
In early morning on Sunday, Aug. 16, Debbie and Phil Amick got a phone call. Their son had fallen and broken his neck. Both the fifth ad sixth veterbrae in his neck were crushed. The couple got on the first plane out to New Orleans to be with him.
"They were just in awe that I would take off work, but family first," said Phil Amick, whose job at Veolia, a water treatment plant company, was held for his return.
Amick spent six weeks without physical therapy in the trauma ward before flying to San Jose on Sept. 27. The special medical flight cost about $30,000, and insurance only covered a third of that.
Now he is in the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, where his family said he is making strong progress.
After so much time without therapy, Amick was paralyzed from the neck down. It was a struggle to shrug his shoulders.
But a week ago, Amick could extend his arms and rotate his wrists. Now he can fold each arm across his chest to touch the opposite shoulder.
His hands have lost most of their dexterity, however. Any weight he once had from muscles is now gone, leaving him oddly thin.
"He's still Travis," said Debbie Amick. "This is a life-changing event. But my bottom line is that I still have my son. I didn't lose him."
Doctors are reluctant to predict his future progress, as every spinal injury is a little different.
"Depending on anyone for every little thing is overwhelming at times," said Amick. Over time, he wants to move out on his own. Maybe return to school and study psychology. Someday he wants a capuchin monkey for a service pet.
But first, he has to get home. He's scheduled for release on Nov. 14. Debbie and Phil Amick have made the 95-mile commute to San Jose regularly to learn how to care for their son.
"Everything takes a long time, I'm finding out," said Debbie Amick. "But I'm getting better."
He's a lucky guy, in one sense. Amick's mother is a nurse at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Stockton. And one brother is studying to be a physical trainer in Chico.
The family's home in Lodi, off of Harney Lane, needs a lot of work to be ready for Amick's homecoming, according to Phil Amick.
Wheelchair accessibility is the biggest problem. All the carpets have to be torn out and replaced with hardwood flooring. Each doorway needs to be widened. The step up to the front door needs a ramp. A sunken living room floor will be raised up to the level of the hallway.
Phil Amick plans to install a 5-foot-wide door from the living room to what will be Amick's room so he can go back and forth with ease. In the bedroom, Phil Amick will install a bigger window and an entertainment center, since Amick will spend so much time in bed.
The bathroom comes with its own set of problems. Amick needs a shower chair he can sit in. The countertop has to go, to be replaced with a pedestal sink. A hall closet outside the bathroom will be remodeled to provide more storage.
Additionally, Amick will need a motorized wheelchair, a lift to help him get in and out of bed, and physical therapy equipment. His family is considering hiring a caretaker to help Amick transition back to an independent life.
Friends and family created a website, www.travman6.com to explain Amick's condition and how people can help.
Already, donations have flowed in. Fundraisers are springing up in New Orleans, Redding, and here in Lodi. One family from Southern California even donated a wheelchair-accessible van.
"It's unbelievable. We've been told we have a lot of friends, but when something like this happens and they come out of the woodwork, it's unreal," said Amick about the support his family has received from the community.
Despite the major medical learning curve as well as the growing hospital and remodeling bills, the Amick family is looking forward to bringing their son back to Lodi.
"It'll be good to have him home again, to see him smile," said Phil Amick.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.