One day at a time
July 5, 2011
He slowly rolls into the sunlight in his latest yet temporary mode of transportation. As subtle raindrops accompany the sunshine, Scotty Veenis sits in his wheelchair welcoming the change in weather.
Veenis is an energetic and jovial 27-year-old who was born to ski. He was named the Park City Ski Team Skier of the Year in 2005, skied for the University of Utah where he earned the title of 2006 GS National Champion, and was named an NCAA All-American on three separate occasions.
But today Veenis can’t walk. Not quite yet. He is nearing the end of a long recovery from a head-on car collision on April 9. As a ski team coach at Rowland Hall Academy’s Rowmark ski program, Veenis was driving an SUV filled with six team members that was hit on Highway 35 near Mount Hood, Ore., that evening around 5 p.m. A Jeep attempting to pass a semi on a blind curve did not make it and slammed into the SUV.
Veenis, who lives in Park City, has spent his summer months in the Mount Hood area for the last few years. He said he has driven the road from Government Camp to Hood River, where the accident took place, "hundreds of times."
‘Everything kind of slowed down’
What happened on April 9 would leave him hospitalized for nearly two months, requiring five surgeries. From head to toe, Scotty Veenis has paid the price for swerving the Chevrolet Suburban to take the brunt of the impact. Rowmark student Hank Shipman, who sat directly behind Veenis, suffered four broken vertebrae, paralysis on the left side of his body and a broken femur.
Recommended Stories For You
"The way I remember was that everything kind of slowed down," Veenis said. "I look left, there’s a semi and other cars, and look right and there’s a guardrail and a pretty steep embankment.
Veenis is credited with sacrificing himself to protect his students.
"All of a sudden, your natural reaction is to just turn. That was just all a natural reaction. Then, boom, we hit. Airbags hit. The center console everything got pushed up (into the car)."
Dazed, Veenis recalls regaining consciousness in no pain. Adrenaline and sheer shock took over. Veenis tried speaking to Shipman who was screaming that he couldn’t feel the left side of his body. He said Shipman is now at home waiting for his C6 vertebrae to come back into alignment and is expected to make a full recovery.
All Veenis could do was lie there, his left leg completely shattered from the engine bursting through the center console of the car. His lungs and ribs were damaged from his seatbelt violently yanking him back and from the impact of hitting the steering wheel.
"I was just trying to assess the situation," Veenis said. "It’s a little muffled. About 30 minutes after (the crash), I feel a tickle under my left butt cheek. I reach back and bring my hand up and it’s all blood. That’s when it started to get real. That’s where things started to slow down and fade."
Still wedged between the car seat and the heap of metal that exploded through the car, Scotty Veenis guessed that 40 minutes went by before emergency crews began cutting the car apart to retrieve him.
the time Veenis was loaded into the ambulance, and after the morphine began to course into his veins, he was unconscious. He didn’t remember anything until he woke up in Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital in Portland, Ore.
Time stood still
Throughout his first month in the Portland hospital, Veenis was sedated. He was suffering from two brain bleeds, which left his mind altered.
"At times, I thought I was at different places," he said. "At times, I thought I was at a ski resort and was asking all these funny questions."
Jay and Cindy Veenis, his parents, flew from Virginia to Portland to be by his side.
"The real critical point was 7-10 days after the accident," Jay Veenis said. "The doctors said it was a life-threatening situation."
Aside from the crushed left leg, lung and rib damage and two brain bleeds, Veenis’s gall bladder, liver and pancreas were severely damaged in the accident.
"It got to that low point, and then the blood transfusions started to work, the body turned it around and I started getting in on the upswing," he said.
Prior to the accident, Veenis had suffered only two significant broken bones, breaking his tibia and fibula at age 16. Prior to the accident, he had never been involved in anything more than a fender bender.
Bingo and ice cream socials
Following three grueling weeks in intensive care in Portland, Veenis was flown to the University of Utah Medical Center where he stayed for two more weeks and underwent his fifth surgery.
He was discharged to Aspen Ridge West Transition Rehab facility in Murray, where he began to gain more strength. He said he was one of only two in the facility who were not of "baby boomer" age or older.
"Bingo and ice cream socials," he said, laughing.
After an estimated five weeks there, Veenis’ rehab began progressing at a rapid rate. Physical therapy twice a day, mainly for his legs, featured stretching, range-of-motion exercises, heat, and as he said, "just trying to get all the little muscles back firing again."
"He’s very much troopin’ through it," Jay Veenis said. "He has a very positive outlook one that amazes me. I put myself in that situation; I don’t know if I have the same outlook he does. I find it incredible."
Veenis was released from Aspen Ridge on June 17 and is now staying at the Sundial Lodge at Canyons Resort with his mother Cindy in a condominium owned by the family of a Rowmark student-athlete.
Although back in the friendly confines of Park City, Veenis still can’t walk, but is now partaking in physical therapy at Kimball Junction where he has been able to do pool exercises and work on gaining strength in his weaker left leg.
This next winter
Veenis doesn’t like the term hero. In fact, he reiterated that his swift turn on Highway 35 in Oregon was just a "natural reaction."
But while he may not consider himself a hero, he should be getting a hero’s reward this winter.
"Once we looked at the X-rays, the first thing my doc says to me is, ‘We’ll get you skiing again this year,’" he said, recalling his first visit with his doctor at University of Utah Hospital.
"I’m definitely looking forward to it. That’s a major goal of mine. But the next three months are going to be filled with rehab and we’ll just play it by ear. I might go to Hawaii all of October, get some beach therapy."
The future is still uncertain. Veenis says he is taking things as they come.
"I probably get more down about it than he does," Jay Veenis said. "Back in Utah, I was complaining about his situation and he said, ‘Dad, we have to do this one day at a time. Don’t think back, don’t think forward. One day at a time.’"
Added Scotty Veenis: "Looking back on it, it was an unlucky situation, but yeah, it could have been a lot worse. Everyone walked away."
Having nearly ditched the wheelchair for crutches, he hasn’t been able to walk away quite yet, but he’s working on it, and to him, that’s the most important thing he can do.