CARBONDALE, Colo. — For Nate White, kayaking is a passion.
The 33-year-old high school teacher from Carbondale spent many days on the creek in Crested Butte. But in June 2016, one moment on the water changed his life.
“This particular rapid was a 20-foot waterfall, and I kind of got pushed off my line a little bit, and landed on a rock in the landing zone,” he said. “I couldn’t move or feel my legs.”
White was airlifted to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, and he was in surgery in a matters of hours.
“Nate had what’s called a three column burst fracture at L2,” said Dr. Ben Rubin, a neurosurgeon.
He performed two surgeries to decompress the nerves and reconstruct the spine.
“You operate under the assumption that he could get better, but in the back of my head, I was thinking he may not get better from this,” Rubin said.
White had no function below the waist and spent two months at Craig Hospital.
“It was pretty grim, certainly,” he said.
At times, despair set in, but White was determined. He moved back to the mountains, got back in a kayak and dedicated himself to rehabilitation.
That included regular exercise in the Glenwood Hot Springs. The water is full of minerals and is believed to have healing powers.
But his biggest boost came from using an exoskeleton provided by Bridging Bionics. The Colorado nonprofit was founded by Amanda Boxtel, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident.
“These exoskeletons have helped train him to learn to walk again,” Boxtel said.
A year later, White’s progress is nothing short of remarkable. He is able to walk with a cane and is getting better at walking unassisted.
Twenty-five years after her accident, Boxtel is not able to walk unassisted, but she is overcome with joy seeing that White can.
“We all want it, but Nate’s living it and I’m just so proud of him. He’s our shining star,” she said.