Road to recovery
PINEVILLE - As soon as he knew he was going to survive, Jason Cook set a goal: To get his broken body healthy enough to go bow hunting for deer.
Today it's impossible to tell that Cook, now 31, had his upper body broken to pieces in a truck wreck. Today it's impossible to imagine that doctors once told his family he might not live to see another day.
Almost seven years have passed since the Pineville native almost lost the ability to roam the Wyoming County woods in search of deer. His memory of the accident is sketchy, but he remembers well the work he did to avoid missing a single minute of hunting.
"I was at a bachelor party in Nicholas County," he said. "My friends and I left the bar between 2 and 3 a.m. Three guys got into the truck's cab and another guy and I climbed into the bed. We were on our way back to where we were staying when the truck's right rear wheel dropped off the pavement."
The truck skidded and turned sideways across the road. The rear tires regained traction and shot the truck across the road and into a steep bank.
"I don't remember anything after that," Cook said. "I've been told the truck hit the bank at an angle and started barrel-rolling. I ended up 70 feet from the vehicle. The doctors think the truck might have rolled over me."
All but two of Cook's ribs were broken. Both of his lungs collapsed. He had three fractured vertebrae - two in his back and one in his neck. His pericardial sac was torn, and he had a broken wrist.
The doctors at Summersville Memorial Hospital stabilized Cook's injuries and transferred him on to Morgantown's Ruby Memorial Hospital for advanced treatment. Cook doesn't remember much of what happened, so his wife, Tonya, has to fill in the gaps.
"We could get a little response from Jason during that first day in Morgantown, but after that the doctors decided to place him into a medically induced coma," she recalled. "Three days after the accident, he had swelling around his lungs and a high fever. A ventilator was doing all his breathing for him. The doctors told us that he might not survive the day."
A family friend from Wyoming County, Gene Thorn, happened to be at the hospital visiting his father. When Cook's parents and Tonya told him what they'd been told, Thorn - a devoutly religious man - suggested that they find a private place and pray together.
"We prayed with Gene, and by 5 a.m. the next morning Jason had improved so much that the ventilator was only supplying 10 percent of his oxygen," Tonya said. "It was such a blessing that Gene was there. I think he was meant to be there at that time."
After seven days, doctors brought Cook out of his coma, but handed him some grim news.
"They said there was a chance I might be paralyzed," he said. "They did surgery to stabilize my broken vertebrae."
Not long after the surgery, a physical therapist arrived to do what physical therapists do - try to get Cook back onto his feet.
"I remember taking those first few steps and looking out the window. I cried like a baby," Cook recalled. "At that point, I figured I had [the injuries] beaten. The goal then became to go bow hunting that fall, and at that time the season was not much more than three months away."
Cook's doctors recommended he go to a rehabilitation hospital. "I was hardheaded and refused," he said.
Instead, he went home and launched his own rehabilitation program.
"I couldn't do much at first," he said. "We had a new yellow Labrador retriever puppy, and that kept me occupied. As I healed, I started trying to get my bow-hunting muscles built back up."
He took Tonya's bow and cranked it down to its lowest draw weight - 30 pounds.
"Within a month of the accident, I was shooting her bow," he said. "As I got stronger, I bumped the [draw weight] back up.
"By mid-August to early September, I was able to start shooting my own bow at its lowest draw weight. When the bow season opened, I was pulling 65 pounds."
The archery season opened Oct. 15. The day dawned with Cook sitting in a tree stand alongside his father.
"I saw a four-point buck that morning, but let him walk," Cook said. "I later killed a doe in Upshur County, and then on Oct. 29 I killed an eight-point buck over in Mingo County."
Cook was back doing what he loved.
"I hunted that season, and I haven't missed a season since," he said. "I usually end up filling all my bow tags.
"I'm very appreciative that I was given the chance to stay active in hunting. On the first day of every bow season, I thank the Lord that I'm able to do it."
Reach John McCoy