A miracle in the works: JR Vezain on the road to recovery after severe back injury
“I just saw a twitch in my leg!” JR Vezain excitedly told his wife, Shelby while speaking with Tri-State Livestock News about his recent back injury.
This is a big improvement over minimal sensations and reactions below the belly button of the bareback bronc rider since a bronc flipped over on him Sept. 22 in Pasadena, Texas.
He has been at peace with the injury since the very beginning and knows there is a “miracle in the works.” The bronc had gathered up the strength to buck, but ended up face to face with the chutes, resulting in the horse going over backward.
Vezain knew immediately that he was injured, and in the short time it took for help to reach him, while in his “own little world,” he heard a voice clearly tell him that he could either accept that his back is broke, he won’t be able to use his legs, and his career is over, or he can give it all up to God right now, accept Him as the ultimate healer, and know that a miracle is coming.
When asked what he needed by the first few to reach him laying in the arena dirt, Vezain simply responded, “Prayers.”
“I haven’t doubted it from the beginning; I’m going to be a walking miracle before too long,” he said. “This will turn non-believers into believers for His glory.”
Vezain began his journey at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, where he first received surgery the day after the accident fracturing the T10 vertebra and some of the T9. Doctors placed two rods and eight screws from T8 to T12 and fused it together to immobilize the fracture.
“It doesn’t matter what the doctors say, God is the great healer, but they can’t diagnose anything until the spinal cord swelling has gone down,” Vezain said. “They can’t give me outcomes; they’re going off of me telling them I’m walking out of here. If they give me a one percent chance, that’s all I need to make it work.”
Vezain was moved to TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation & Research Monday evening, where he has received a brace to immobilize his torso from twisting or torquing and was fitted for a chair Tuesday that will offer him some freedom. Earlier this month, he began workouts and physical therapy, which involved standing for some time, playing Wii, and using an electrode machine to get his leg muscles firing and responding.
“It finally feels good to get busy again and get to work,” Vezain said.
He currently has very little sensation below his belly button. He can feel slight pressure in his high hip, and when reflexes were checked in his knees, he could feel tapping on his knee caps.
For the next two to four weeks, Vezain will perform stage one of rehabilitation, learning to be mobile while respecting the amount of pressure his shifted spine can handle at TIRR, and while he must remain in a back brace for the next 10 to 12 weeks, he may move to a rehab center that can help him continue healing once the first stage is complete. He doesn’t yet know where that will be.
“When I started this program, I told them they had never dealt with a guy quite like me,” he said. “I didn’t lose any upper body strength, so I don’t have to work on my upper body to hold myself up; I just have to work on endurance.”
He is considering rehab facilities closer to home, but he will chose more on the facility’s ability to help rather than proximity to home.
“We’ll sacrifice whatever we have to to get the best place. I want to go to the place that will help me walk out,” he said.
Vezain’s wife Shelby has been at his side from the very beginning, and, while they had planned on waiting to tell everyone their good news, the injury sped things along. JR and Shelby are expecting their first child in May of 2019.
“I have a rockstar wife. She has been here since I’ve been out of surgery,” he said.
JR is a Wyoming native, and Shelby calls Montana home. The Vezains live a mile from Shelby’s parents, TJ and Liane Newman, near Milestone, Montana. They just closed on a “chunk of ground” this spring and also lease land in the area to run their cows and sheep.
“We have the makings to make our own,” JR said. “I would love to just be horseback and work our ranch horseback. I’m extremely excited for this new phase of life, and I’m at ease if I never ride another bucking horse, if that’s His plan. If I can, that’s good too.”
The PRCA season ended Oct. 1 with JR qualifying for his sixth National Finals Rodeo, something that would have haunted some.
“I have a peace about it,” he said. “I know God has a bigger plan than the NFR. I’m blessed to have the career I did have. I want to be an inspiration for some young up-and-comers that would fill my shoes.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up as JR Vezain Recover Fund. “I’ve never been in a situation like this,” he said. “It’s overwhelmingly humbling.”
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As a routine management matter, the Teddy Roosevelt National Park plans to remove a few horses from its herd.