Park City High School junior recovering from spinal injury after car crash

Andre Lopez, an incoming junior at Park City High School, shattered his lower vertebrae after a car crash on his way home from California. He is currently recovering from the accident at Primary Children's Hospital.
Photo by Ana Lopez

Andre Lopez’s plans were simple. Skateboard with friends and enjoy the rest of summer before heading back to school in a few weeks. Now, after a car accident that left him in the intensive care unit, his plans are far more complicated.

Lopez, 16 and an incoming junior at Park City High School, was returning from a trip to California on July 16 with his mother, Ana Lopez, and dog Roscoe when the car hydroplaned and flipped. According to Ana, he ended up shattering the L1 and L2 vertebrae in his spine and is currently being treated at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Ana also suffered serious injuries, including broken ribs and a punctured lung. She is out of the hospital and recovering. Roscoe died in the crash.

Ana said the rainstorm that caused her to hydroplane began suddenly, a little east of Elko, Nevada. As buckets of water started to flood the road, she hit the brakes and the next second, the car was flipping. When she came to, a woman was yelling, “Are you OK?”

She called for her son in the back seat, who said that he could not feel his legs, and they waited as first responders arrived at the scene to cut them out of the vehicle, which was on its side. They were taken separately via ambulance to the University of Utah Hospital and Primary Children’s Hospital.

Ana spent a week at the university hospital being treated for her injuries. Andre is expected to be released in about four weeks, she said.

Ana said that her son is recovering quicker than anyone anticipated after surgery to repair his vertebrae. He is able to freely move from his waist up and can wiggle his toes. He has regained feeling in his legs, but is still not able to move them on his own. His lower back is also weak and is not able to support his body weight on its own.

His road to recovery is expected to be a long one, Ana said. He will need to go through months of physical therapy and occupational therapy. He may need to be homeschooled in order to heal.

To help cover the costs of the accident — including car and medical expenses — Ana Lopez’s sister set up a GoFundMe page. Individuals can contribute money that the family will use to pay medical bills and recurring expenses from the accident, since Ana said she did not have car insurance or medical insurance at the time of the incident.

Doctors are not certain that Andre will be able to make a full recovery, but Ana is confident that her son will be able to because of his positive attitude and persistence.

“He is not giving up,” she said. “All he is thinking is, ‘I am going to walk and I am going to get back on my skateboard.’”

She knows how strong-willed her son can be. Just four days after the crash, Andre came to visit her even though the doctors were not in favor of him leaving the hospital, she said.

Recently, a physical therapist was teaching Andre how to move from the wheelchair into the car. When Andre asked if he could try doing it by himself, Ana said, the physical therapist looked hesitant but agreed. He did it, and then got himself back out of the car.

She said that it was a big feat for him, especially considering where he was about two weeks ago.

“When I first heard my son say that he couldn’t feel his lower body, my heart broke. I was like, ‘No, please no. This can’t be happening,’” she said. “So having him actually transferring himself from the wheelchair to the car, I thought, ‘He is ready.’”

She said her son gets frustrated sometimes, but he is not scared to face the world in a wheelchair, for however long that will be.

“I’m not losing hope, that’s the last thing that I want to do,” she said.

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