The Nachtigals

Scott Nachtigal was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident that left him using a wheelchair and weakened his hands and arms. Pictured here with his wife, Tammy, and his two sons, Jordan, left, and Jayden, the former diesel mechanic is learning to live again.

Tobias Mann, Coulee News

WEST SALEM — The little boy looked down at his father’s foot hanging off the chair.

“Oh, geez,” he said to himself, hands on his head.

The boy reached down and picked up his father’s fallen foot, re-seating it on the ottoman before scampering back to the television.

“He’s my protector,” Scott Nachtigal said, watching his 3-year-old son, Jordan, leave.

Scott might never lift his legs again after an accident last fall that left him paralyzed from the chest down, and the former diesel mechanic is struggling to adjust to his new life.

On a dreary October day, Scott woke, dressed and said goodbye to his wife, Tammy. By 5:40 a.m. he was on the road to work at Potato King.

Scott made his way down the valley. It had started to rain by the time he turned onto Hwy. 16 toward West Salem.

His wipers had been on for less than a minute when he looked up from the radio and saw the brown mass of a deer.

His foot on the break, his vehicle slid sideways, tumbling off the road into an adjacent field.

“The last thing I remember I was going off the road,” he said. “The next thing I know I was laying in a field with my face in the dirt.”

Shortly after, a friend of Scott’s who had been on is way to work at the Bangor Fire Department stopped and called for help.

Scott had been partially ejected from the driver window and pinned by the upturned vehicle.

As first responders worked to remove him from the wreckage, Scott heard the rhythmic thump of helicopter blades overhead.

“I heard the helicopter landing, and I asked the first responder why that was here,” he said.

In the air, he said a flight nurse took a pair of scissors and ran it along his foot.

He said the nurse told him his toes should have curled back away from the blade but instead curled down toward it, the sign of a spinal cord injury.

They landed in La Crosse and an ambulance took him to the hospital. The helicopter couldn’t land at the hospital due to the weather.

Shortly after taking off, Scott’s wife Tammy, who was in the car taking her kids to daycare, got a phone call from a first responder in the helicopter with her husband. She could see the lights from the accident in front of her.

“I was pretty much numb,” she said.

After dropping her kids at daycare, she returned to the accident scene in shock before heading to the hospital.

“It was a long waiting game,” she said “It was probably over an hour before I found out he had broken his neck.”

“It was a couple of hours before I got see him,” she said.

After more than eight hours of surgery to repair his C8 vertebra, using what had been a woman’s hip bone, Scott began his recovery.

The accident left Scott paralyzed from the chest down, leaving him in a wheelchair. He said his doctors told him it will be six months to two years before Scott knows whether he will recover any feeling below his chest.

“I guess we got to wait that long and give it a chance,” Scott said.

Scott spent 49 days in the hospital recovering. He had physical therapy four hours a day, seven days a week.

He had to learn how to roll over without using his legs or his stomach and how to move from his wheelchair to another chair, and he worked to strengthen his arms, which had been weakened as a result of the damage to his spinal cord.

“You have no balance at all,” he said.

He said he had to do a lot of arm strengthening so he could actually move himself around.

Scott said he is focused on strengthening his hands, which are so weak he can hardly grasp a pillow.

His days still start the same way as they always did, but after 17 years as a diesel mechanic, he isn’t going to work.

“I wake up at 5 a.m.,” he said. “We do stuff then go back to bed until 8:30. Then Tammy takes the little one to day care.”

“If we have errands to do, we go out. If not, Tammy gets me onto the couch or recliner,” he said. “It’s nice to get out of the house.”

Scott said he thought he adjusted to the changes better than he had expected but said he was still going to miss hunting and fishing.

Tammy said she doesn’t think Jordan really understands that his dad can’t walk. He just gets around a little differently.

“He always wants to ride on the wheelchair,” Scott said. “It’s more enjoyable for him.”

After the accident, the couple’s 14-year-old son, Jayden, helped to support his family in little ways, such as doing the laundry and taking care of his brother.

Even before Scott left the hospital, his sister, Laurie Degner, began planning a benefit for him.

“At first I said ‘no.’ That didn’t work,” he said. “When you think of people who have benefits, you think of cancer treatment. I just knew I was hurt. Why did I need to have a benefit?”

“We weren’t good at accepting help,” he said.

By the time Scott returned home from the hospital, a 36-foot-long ramp put together by family friends and the Bangor Blizzard Busters snowmobile club led the way to his front door.

Tammy said the ramp went up in less than eight hours.

The family will hold a benefit to help Scott pay for the considerable medical expense related to his accident. The benefit is scheduled for March 19, the couple’s 11th wedding anniversary.

“We can’t imagine what the hospital bills are going to be,” Tammy said. ”Hopefully the insurance will cover most of it.”