Expert care helps rancher recover from severe neck fracture

Expert care helps rancher recover from severe neck fracture

It was a phone call that no spouse wants to receive. When Suzanne hung up, she didn’t know if her husband would survive the accident or be severely disabled.

Brent and Suzanne Jones live in Oakley, Idaho with their three children. Brent serves as a ranch manager for Cranney Farms and Suzanne works at home for a multilevel product marketing company.

“It was 100 degrees outside and Brent was on his horse that day,” Suzanne explained. “As they were rounding up a few cows that had gotten loose, Brent rode up to open the gate. When he did, the horse’s legs got tangled in the wires and spooked him. Brent was thrown up into the air before landing on the top of his head. His neck took the brunt of the impact.”

Brent’s two co-workers rode up quickly to his side and took great care not to move him before paramedics from the Oakley Quick Response Unit arrived.

“He doesn’t remember much about the fall,” said Suzanne, “but he does remember waking up, talking and feeling numbness in his arms and legs.” After assessing Brent’s injuries, the paramedics decided that he needed a higher level of care, so they called for an Air Rescue transport to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello.

Suzanne and her sister, who had been having lunch in Twin Falls, started the 90-mile drive to Pocatello, arriving just before Brent went into surgery.

Spinal surgery

“I was scared,” Suzanne said, “but also a little naïve. I didn’t have much information about his condition. I was worried that he might have a fractured back, but I also had a feeling that everything would be okay.”

Suzanne met with the Portneuf emergency physician, who explained the X-Ray images to her. “It’s more severe than we thought,” said the doctor. “Some patients don’t walk after this kind of injury, while others don’t survive it.”

Suzanne met with Jonathan Morgan, MD, a neurosurgeon at Portneuf Medical Center, pictured in the above photo on the right, and Chris Williamson, PA , left, who assisted in the surgery.

Dr. Morgan explained that they wanted to get Brent into surgery right away. It was quite fortunate that Brent arrived quickly via helicopter, as waiting too long could have led to increased swelling in the spinal cord area and increased the risk of paralysis.

Brent’s spine was severely pushed forward between the vertebrae C7 and T1 at the base of the neck. While the injury did pinch the spinal cord, there was little damage to it.

There were also a number of crushed bone fragments that had to be removed to prevent nerve damage.

Dr. Morgan realigned Brent’s spine and vertebrae back into normal position and then anchored rods and screws above and below the damaged area. This “fusion” procedure had a very small margin of error, as a millimeter too far in any direction could damage the spinal cord or an artery. The procedure was very successful.

According to one of the staff members, it was very fortunate for Brent that Dr. Morgan was on call that day.

The team completed the entire surgery in about 6 ½ hours, periodically waking Brent up to see if he still could move his arms and legs. If he couldn’t, they would have to work longer to find the problem, but everything proceeded smoothly.

Recovery and rehabilitation

Brent spent five nights in the hospital’s intensive care unit. The team expected that Brent would need inpatient rehabilitation exercises, but when he was able to stand and walk about, they canceled the order.

“When he returned home, Brent started with some occupational therapy exercises, mostly with his hands,” Suzanne said. “They didn't want him to do anything connected to his neck because they were waiting for adequate time to pass for healing. It’s not completely fused and healed, but it’s getting there.”

Brent has been doing some gentle physical therapy, mostly with his shoulders and arms, with a weight limit of 8 pounds. He’s been able to take the C collar off and has been driving around a bit, so there has been some improvement.

“He’s even been able to do some chores around the ranch, mainly with the horses and a few cattle we have at the house,” Suzanne said. “Brent had to rely on somebody else to do the chores these past three months, but now he's able to do a little bit of it. The doctor thinks the numbness in his hands will eventually resolve and that he may be able to return to work in the spring,” she said.

Through everything that has happened, Suzanne and the entire family are thankful that they were cared for by the team at Portneuf Medical Center.

“Pocatello may be a small town, but we shouldn’t underestimate the quality of medical care we have in southern Idaho,” Suzanne said. “The doctors here are excellent. They are very sympathetic, they have a great bedside manner, and they take the time to thoroughly explain everything that will happen. You can tell they enjoy and care about what they do for the people in this area.”

“We are so grateful and forever impacted by the care provided by Dr. Morgan, Chris Williamson and the entire team at Portneuf Medical Center.”

For more information about surgical services at Portneuf Medical Center, visit our web page.