Full recovery expected for student who broke neck | VailDaily.com
Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

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Full recovery expected for student who broke neck

NWS James Leonard 02 TS 02-03-08

VAIL ” In July, doctors told 14-year-old James Leonard’s parents that he might never walk again, but now the Battle Mountain High School student not only is walking but is confident he will be back on the slopes next season.

James, who competed in slopestyle and halfpipe for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, broke his neck diving into a lake this summer. Doctors thought it was likely he would be a quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator.

However, James surprised doctors and family by making what his surgeon called a “dramatic” and rare recovery, even walking down the hospital hall a few days after his surgery.

Since his surgery, James has been doing intense rehabilitation and improving quickly, said his father, Toby Leonard.

Looking at him, the only telltale sign of his injury is the 3-inch raised scar up the back of his neck where surgeons fused his vertebrae after the accident.

Last week, James saw pediatric spine-injury specialists in Baltimore, who told him he can expect a 100 percent recovery, meaning he will regain use of all his muscles.

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“Right now I’m about 90 percent back, and I’m expecting a full recovery. But I’m not surprised,” James said of the diagnosis.

He also can expect full range of motion in his arm, which was particularly weak after the accident.

He returns to Baltimore this summer for his final evaluation and hopes to get the OK from doctors to alpine ski again next season, he said.

“I was hoping it would be sooner, but I can wait. They said I can definitely ski again, but they said it’s a big risk for me to compete,” he said. “If I hurt my spinal cord again, the results could be catastrophic, the doctor said.”

But James, a champion skier who competed in the Junior Olympics and the national championships, said he was determined from the time of his accident that he would be back on the slopes competing.

“I’m definitely going to compete again,” he said matter-of-factly. “It was frustrating when earlier the doctor told me I would not be able to ski again, period. I didn’t like that very much.”

Meanwhile, he has been training to race with the Battle Mountain High School Nordic team. His first race will be Tuesday.

It does not compare to alpine skiing, he admitted, but it is something to do until he gets back on the slopes.

“I’m just glad to get back outside,” he said.

And while he cannot be competing on the slopes, James spent Saturday cheering on his brother at the Ski and Snowboard Club’s races.

“We’re glad he got to go. It ended up being a really positive thing,” Toby Leonardsaid. “He was pumped he was there, and he felt like he was part of the team.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.