Mindset, faith help teen thrive after spinal cord injury

Son of former Brighton High coach making progress

Noble Haskell, shown competing for Smoky Hill High School
Noble Haskell, shown competing for Smoky Hill High School
Haskell family
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Noble Haskell doesn’t shy away from a challenge.

The high-school junior from Centennial, Colorado (his father, Eli, coached Brighton High School’s basketball and golf teams), finds joy in pushing through despite pain. As a track and cross country running standout, he often pushed himself to the physical limit in pursuit of his dream of receiving an (NCAA) Division One college scholarship.

“Halfway through a 5K, I often felt like giving up. It was tough, but knowing I would be able to do it made me feel good,” he says.

This never-give-up mindset has helped him face the biggest challenge of his life: rehabilitating from a spinal cord injury.

In the week between the end of track season and the beginning of cross country preseason, Noble and his friends took a road trip to Branson, Missouri. On their way back, they drove through a significant rainstorm. Near Russell, Kansas, they were struck from behind by another driver. Noble's neck was broken at the C5 level, damaging his spinal cord.

Noble was flown to Wichita, where he had two emergency surgeries to fuse his vertebrae. His mom received a call and drove through the night to reach his bedside.

“The whole time I was driving, I felt that God kept saying, ‘Noble’s going to run again. He’s going to be OK,'” she says.

After a month in the ICU battling complications, Noble was flown from Wichita to Denver and transferred to Craig Hospital for rehabilitation.

On the first evening at Craig, his room filled with other teenage patients in the Teen Rehab at Craig (TRAC) program. “It was comforting to know that there were people my age who seemed to be having a good time. I knew I’d be able to relate to them.”

Noble was quickly plunged into an intense therapy program. Respiratory therapists helped him wean off a ventilator. Noble especially enjoyed physical therapy, given his love of working out

He initially only had function above his level of injury but soon began to get feeling back in his triceps; then he was able to regain slight wrist function, then move a toe.

“As soon as we started to see those wins, things started to snowball in the right direction,” he says. “I know that not everyone gets this, and I don’t take it lightly. I’m extremely grateful.”

In addition to his physical recovery, Craig therapies helped him with his social and psychological recoveries.

Laura Magnuson and Cory Wendling, teachers at Craig Hospital, helped him stay on track with school. Before his injury, Noble had been a motivated student, and he didn’t want to fall behind. Laura and Cory communicated with his high-school counselor (Haskell attends Smoky Hill High School), teachers and district representatives and helped him work through school assignments. Through the donor-funded SCI Scholars Fund, Noble received assistive technology tools, like a voice-to-text system, that allowed him to complete assignments and use a computer on his own.

Noble’s recreational therapist, Jess Klamut, helped him embrace new activities. According to Noble, he was initially a closed door and only wanted to engage in activities that would help him return to running.

“Jess said, ‘I believe you will run again. But in the meantime, let’s get you out having fun differently.’” With Jess, Noble rode an adaptive bike and played games to work on finger dexterity.

“She helped me see that as much as I wished I was running, this was how I had to get there,” he says. “You can’t eat an elephant in a day, and this would help me have fun while getting to where I want to be.”

During his time as an inpatient, Noble became very close to the other teens in the TRAC program. They took outings to Chatfield Reservoir, learned to navigate around a mall, went out for ice cream and saw a movie. They also spent significant time hanging out together around the hospital, playing adaptive video games and board games, and even engaging in a Nerf battle with staff members.

Being with people his age was healing for Noble.

“As a 16-year-old, you’re used to hanging out with other kids all the time. As soon as an accident happens, everyone helping you is instantly older than you and it is harder to relate on a personal level. It was nice to let down my guard and relax with the other kids.”

Noble’s mom, Krisi, and her husband also benefited from get-togethers with other parents whose kids were in the TRAC program.

“The other parents knew exactly what we were going through,” she says. “It instantly connects you and develops lifelong friendships.”

After a total of 151 days in the hospital, Noble came home. He was greeted by a parade of friends and family members with confetti and banners. He returns to Craig five days a week for outpatient therapy, specifically working on balance and walking with the help of Craig’s specialized equipment, pool and treadmill. He can take a few steps on his own with a walker.

While the entire experience of his accident and injury has been challenging, Noble has leaned on his faith and believes that he is exactly where he is supposed to be.

“Throughout this journey, when tough times come, I sit down and pray for the strength to keep going,” he says. “I would love to be an inspiration for others, and if I can inspire even one person to try something they were scared to do or take a step in life, then this all would be worth it.”

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