Apodaca fights to regain movement


When Chance Apodaca arrived at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., he probably wasn’t sure what to expect.

Photo courtesy of Eric Lars Bakke/Denver Broncos: Dr. Bill Scelza, left, a paraplegic since 1988, is a staff physician at Craig Hospital, where Chance Apodaca, right, of Los Lunas, was a patient. Apodaca is a recovering from an October accident that left him with a serious spine injury.

Then again, the entire last few months have been uncharted territory for Apodaca and his mother, Dawn.

Apodaca dove into an above-ground swimming pool at a Peralta home in the early in the morning hours of Oct. 21, and the pool didn’t have much water in it. While not all of the circumstances of that evening are clear, what is clear is that Apodaca ended up with a broken neck and a severe spinal injury.

“Our focus is on Chance’s rehabilitation,” said Dawn. “Craig is an amazing facility, and it’s also amazing how much support we’ve received. The FFA folks, including advisor Chris Martinez, have been especially kind.”

The Valencia High School junior was taken to an Albuquerque hospital in October, where his lungs were drained and where he spent 17 days in intensive care. Apodaca was on a ventilator for several days after the accident.

He was transported on Nov. 7 to Craig, a back and neck injury specialty hospital in the Denver area. He can move and use his hands and arms, but not his legs, and it’s not clear yet if he will be able to walk again.

In an interview with KRFX 103.5 FM, “The Fox,” Apodaca said he nearly drowned in the accident, and his lungs needed to be drained. The Los Lunas resident told the radio station that he remembers the gathering of close friends that night — and he remembers that it was the night after the Valencia High School Homecoming dance.

An active member of Future Farmers of America, Apodaca was the beneficiary of a December fundraiser dance.

Apodaca celebrated his 17th birthday on Jan. 9, in a celebration that included many patients from Craig. Dawn has taken him to places including shopping malls, restaurants and Denver Broncos games, and several Valencia County visitors have made the trek to Englewood to help lift his spirits.

The Broncos cheerleaders paid a visit to the hospital on Dec. 19.

Apodaca’s interests include rodeo, BMX and motocross.

He was set to be released some time around Jan. 31. Dawn has had extensive work done on the family’s home in anticipation of his arrival — making a home wheelchair-accessible has not been easy.

A PayPal account has been set up to help the family with medical and other expenses.

The teenager will also have a manual wheelchair that he can operate with his hands and arms, and he has already attended practices of a special wheelchair rugby team in Colorado Springs.

At first, Apodaca needed a tracheostomy feeding tube, as his vocal chords were initially paralyzed, and everything he put into his mouth went to his stomach. But his vocal chords recovered, and Apodaca regained his voice. The tube was removed in early January.

A Facebook page, “A 2nd Chance for Chance Apodaca,” has been set up to keep friends and family aware of his progress.

Sgt. Richard Sanchez, a native Los Lunas, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a train collision during a Nov. 15 parade for veterans in Texas, ended up on the same floor of Craig Hospital as Apodaca.

Richard Davis, another Los Lunas resident, was treated at Craig after his 2004 car wreck.

A Bosque Farms police report states the adults at the Peralta home of the incident were inside asleep when Apodaca ended up in the pool. First responders, responding to a 911 call, found Apodaca on the ground near the pool, wrapped in blankets.

The police report states that Apodaca told an officer that he had consumed alcohol that night. In an email to the News-Bulletin, the department’s public information officer, Lt. David Gallegos, said, “The only crime that appears to have been committed was that the injured juvenile consumed alcohol before arriving at the property. The officers felt the medical attention and recovery was a bigger priority than issuing a citation for underage drinking.”

Dawn, who works for a non-profit mental health agency, said she is focused on Chance’s recovery.

“The typical recovery time for these types of injuries is about two years, I’m told,” said Dawn. “Right now, we’re very hopeful.”

-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.