By George Gore Brown, Special to the Independent
“I feel this is a modern day miracle and through God’s grace I am walking,” San Clemente mountain biker, Chris Hukill, said in a recent interview, four months after sustaining severe injuries in a 300-foot fall from a mountain bike trail in Laguna Beach.
Multiple helicopters circling above the trail Friday, April 22, adjacent to the 2800 block of Laguna Canyon Road, stopped local riders in their tracks as the rescue effort began. The local mountain bike community feared the worst as news spread of Hukill’s fall from the Telonics trail, known for its high speed sections and challenging rock features.
Hukill, 59, survived the fall, but received spinal injuries that threatened to put an end to his cycling centric lifestyle. Once rescuers reached him, Hukill was transported by helicopter to an intensive care unit at Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana.
Close friends and family relied on Hukill’s Facebook page to update fellow riders. As days went by, he appeared to make remarkable progress. Less than two months after the accident, a video of Hukill shows him walking unsupported.
Hukill has now returned home, facing adversity head on. “I am wearing a Fitbit and I have been getting about 4,000 steps in a day,” Hukill explained.
Predictably, Hukill remembers nothing of the accident. “The last thing I remember is that I put on my helmet and my gloves and started the trail, but that was all. The next thing I knew I woke up in the hospital.”
Hukill had ridden some of the many mountain bike trails that crisscross the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, but not the Telonics trail. He suggests this unfamiliarity may have been the cause of his accident.
During his hospitalization, Hukill said he underwent three separate spinal surgeries where doctors fused and shaved different vertebrae as well as one where they inserted a tube in a collapsed lung.
Initially, the prognosis was bleak, with doctors suggesting he had just a 30 percent chance of regaining full function in his arms and legs. “The nurse came out and told us that my dad injured his spinal cord and that there was a very real chance that he might be paralyzed,” said Hukill’s daughter, Hailley.
Even so, Hukill quickly showed signs of recovery, first with the regaining of feeling in his fingers and toes followed by elementary movements of his limbs. In the early weeks, Hukill struggled with the most basic of tasks, including the lifting of a pencil, but as weeks went by his progress continued. From an intensive care unit, Hukill was first moved to two rehabilitation facilities before eventually returning home in early July. Hukill currently visits outpatient therapy at Mission Hospital three times a week.
“I now likely have a 90% plus chance of recovery,” said Hukill, who attributed his impressive recovery to excellent physical therapists, neurosurgeon Peyman Tabrizi and his faith in God.
His daughter Hailley found inspiration in her father’s recovery. “I am in awe of his resilience and even when doctors and nurses said that he might never walk again, he continued to push himself and now he is walking as a result of all of his hard work.”
Back on his feet, Hukill hopes to return in October to his business, Hukill Paint & Graphics, of Laguna Hills, which paints graphics on cars and airplanes. “Many of my clients have been my biggest supporters throughout this whole ordeal,” said Hukill.
As he looks back over the months of adversity, Hukill expresses gratitude, aware of what could have been. “I fell 300 feet and I am alive and I can walk. My outlook is very positive and I have come to realize how important family is and that God is with me even in the worst of times.”
George Gore Browne is a former Indy Intern.