Snow was glistening in the morning sunshine as Jay Reinke drove his snowmobile through the Magic Mountain region near Burley, ID on March 31, 2005. Miles of fluffy powder blanketed 7,000-foot-high mountain peaks in the popular winter playground and Jay eagerly looked forward to a full day of sledding as much terrain as possible.
As he guided his snowmobile across a hillside, Jay was ejected from the machine and hurled into the air. The snowmobile had slammed into a rock buried beneath the snow.
“The impact popped up the back of the sled like a teeter-totter and I flew into the air, did a front summersault and landed on the back of my neck and shoulders. It folded me in half. My legs hit me in the face and I heard a loud pop.”
That loud pop was a compression fracture on the T12 vertebra in the middle of his back. As he and doctors at Saint Alphonsus would discover hours later, the vertebra had crumbled after impact and caused nerve damage to his spinal cord.
“I thought I was paralyzed and I was yelling ‘no, no, no!’” Jay said. “I couldn’t move my legs or my hips and there was excruciating pain down each leg. I could only move my arms.”
As he lay on his back with his head pointing downhill, Jay waited for the sight or sound of his brother, Chuck, who had been snowmobiling several hundred yards below. “Chuck saw my sled coming back down the hill with me not on it.”
Chuck immediately drove up the hill to locate Jay, but buried his machine in the snow. He trudged on foot through waist-deep snow the rest of the way up the mountain.
As soon as Chuck arrived, Jay handed him a cellular phone from his jacket. “I told him to call Life Flight,” Jay said. “I was already a Life Flight member, but I never thought I’d have to use it.”
Soon after emergency services were reached by cell phone, Jay could hear the rumble of a Life Flight helicopter coming into the valley. Within minutes, the helicopter found a landing spot and Flight Paramedic James Pennington and Flight Nurse Colleen Mullins attended to Jay. After a brief stop at Magic Valley Regional Medical Center in Twin Falls for tests and x-rays, Jay was flown to Saint Alphonsus where he was placed in the Intensive Care Unit.
The next morning, April 1, Neurosurgeon Doug Smith, M.D., performed an 11-hour surgery on Jay. “He removed what was left of my vertebra and replaced it with a titanium cage,” Jay said. “At that point, I felt very fortunate to be alive and not paralyzed. About 90 percent of the time, people with injuries of this type end up partially paralyzed.”
Following the surgery, Jay spent two nights in ICU, a week on the 6 West Neuro-Recovery floor and three weeks in rehab. All told, Jay spent 31 days at Saint Alphonsus.
“There were times when the pain prevented me from getting out of bed,” Jay said. The shattered vertebra injured his spinal cord enough to cause numbness and tingling in his chest and back—even to this day. “It hurt just to breathe. I felt busted in half. When your whole body hurts, you don’t want to move because moving means pain.”
Following his discharge from Saint Alphonsus, Jay wore a clamshell brace around his upper body for five weeks to help stabilize his spine and back. He also underwent weekly outpatient rehab visits with Saint Alphonsus Rehabilitation Services (STARS) for several months. Even today, he must see Saint Alphonsus rehab doctors bimonthly to manage his progress.
“March 31 was my day,” he said. “That’s the day that my life changed. Since then, I think more about the person I am, the father or husband that I am.”
He said another constant in his life will be his Saint Alphonsus Life Flight membership. Jay plans to be just as active as he was before by skiing, riding his all-terrain vehicle, and, yes, snowmobiling again.
“I look at it as support for a program that helped me. It helps with better training, better equipment, better helicopters. Any way I can support them, I will. Any way I can help only makes the program better.”