Outdoorsman Shawn Hendricks is learning to cope after a tragic accident left him confined him to a wheelchair and is determined to prove that nothing will keep him from doing what he loves.
Shawn, 56, was born and raised in Eudora, where he lives with his wife Lisa. Shawn, who previously worked in construction, framing houses and doing sheetrock work, would frequently come home in the hot summer afternoons to cool off in the couple's five-foot above ground pool.
"I'd just dive right in like a professional swimmer," Shawn said. "I wouldn't go that deep in the water."
July 21, 2018 would change his life forever. This particular day was his middle son's birthday party, and he and his sons were playing volleyball in the pool. He remembers diving into the water one second. Everything that happened next was a blur.
"I don't know if I dove wrong or if one of them bumped me and turned me wrong," Shawn said. "From there I draw a blank because the next thing I was floating and they thought I was playing. Then they figured out I wasn't playing, and by that time I was pretty much drowned with a broken neck."
His sons sprung into action and kept him alive until the ambulance could reach the house, his son Brad performing CPR that he had learned in a paramedic course in college. Paramedics worked on him in the ambulance until they could finally get a heartbeat. An ambulance driver would later tell Lisa that at one point his heart stopped beating.
"The ambulance driver told me they had pretty much given up," Lisa said. "He said they hit Stateline Road and [Shawn] scared them to death because his eyes just popped open."
Shawn was taken to the Med, where he would stay for 41 days.
"When we got to the hospital, I still in my mind didn't know if he had a heart attack or he bumped his head," Lisa said. "Nobody knew. When we got to the Med and they called me back there the first time after they did tests, he's laying there with his eyes open and I'm still really really positive. They said if our sons had not been there to do CPR, he would not have made it."
At the time, Shawn could feel one of his hands and wiggle his fingers a bit but couldn't move or feel most of his body. Doctors told Lisa he would be paralyzed for the rest of his life.
"The doctor told us that another half an inch and he wouldn't have felt anything anywhere," Lisa said. "They couldn't even get him stable enough to do surgery for a week. So for 41 days he was there, it was hit-and-miss every day. He'd get 105 fever, his heart rate would drop to like 50 over 30. We struggled the whole 41 days."
Shawn, who lost about 42 pounds during his recovery, received a feeding tube and a trach and underwent several surgeries at the Med before being transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Within days at the Shepherd Center, he was able to remove the feeding tube, begin feeding himself and sit up in a chair. He continued the therapy that he had started at the Med and had to learn how to do simple everyday tasks again, and both Shawn and Lisa are grateful for the care he received.
"Just the little things - the first time he held a plum and ate it on his own, the first time he brushed his teeth, everything was just a miracle," Lisa said.
Eventually, Shawn was able to go back home but was still confined to a wheelchair. An avid hunter, he not only had to learn how to do everyday tasks but also wrestled with not being able to pursue his passion for the outdoors quite like he used to.
"He is an outdoor person," Lisa said. "He does not like the indoors. He was never in the house. He worked outside, he hunted, he fished, he boated, he cut grass, he swam, he helped in the garden around here. I think that's been his biggest issue - not being able to go and do things like that he could do before."
"I just remember being a little kid," Shawn said. "Mama would run us out in the yard and that's where we stayed, outside. We grew up hunting and fishing, and it's hard to go from one day framing houses to the next you're in a wheelchair. It's rough."
His greatest passions are coon and turkey hunting. He's killed over 100 coons for 15 years in a row. Having studied the literature extensively, he can tell you anything you want to know about coons, turkeys, snakes and anything else outdoors. His face lights up as he recounts stories from his time out in the woods, as he explains turkey populations and grand slams and types of snakes and the many different ways to hunt a turkey ("There's four seasons of turkey season. If you can learn and master the four changes, it's beautiful. It's unreal.") He'll never forget his first turkey, which he killed the first year he started hunting them.
"I've got another challenge on top of me," Shawn said. "I can still do it I think, but it may take where I was killing the limit of three per year, it could probably take me down to one a year."
Although he's faced everything from bobcats to panthers to snakes, his most formidable enemy might just be his own body. Shawn misses work and would give anything to have the use of his legs again. Unable to easily do what he loves, he looks forward to the day when he's not "locked down in the house."
"I wish I could just get over it," Shawn said. "It just ain't like that."
Despite this challenge, Shawn and his loved ones are continuing to seek out other ways for Shawn to get back out into the woods and resume his passion of hunting. He recently had the opportunity to test out a converted vehicle called the action track chair, a type of wheelchair with tracks on each side. Alvin Kelley, Shawn's uncle, arranged the chair demonstration for him.
"Being outdoors is therapeutic [for him]," Kelley said. "You can sort of imagine a man that's been outdoors not only in pleasure but in work. All of a sudden overnight, he's confined to indoors. It works on your mentality. So anytime Shawn can get out of the house, it helps him and it helps Lisa too."
Although the track chair allowed him to move about the yard, it didn't work as well in the rough paths and heavy woods and only had a five or six inch clearance from the ground. Now the family is working on raising money to purchase a Polaris XP 1000, which costs $18,000 and would allow Shawn to get back out into the woods and put his hunting dogs in the back of the vehicle. The Polaris would also allow two people to ride with Shawn.
"We found out real quick that the action track chair wouldn't be practical enough for Shawn," Kelley said. "They're doing some heavy research on the Polaris XP 1000. Right now that's our focus, to help Shawn get out of the house not only for the pleasure but for the therapeutic blessing too. Getting him out of the house to do anything helps him and just makes the day for him, just keeps his mind stimulated."
"It would be nice for him to have some quality of life where he feels a little bit more like his old self," Lisa said.
Lisa's devotion to Shawn is evident as the couple, who have been married for 36 years and have three sons and five grandchildren, have also spent more time together since the accident.
"She's my legs," Shawn said. "She's got her own legs to do what she has to do, but then she's my legs. She's my hands. It's a change, man."
"It's a miracle to see where he was and how far he's come, the little things that he could do that he couldn't do before," Lisa said.
The family praises God for allowing Shawn to live and says that churches from all over prayed for Shawn during his recovery.
"He [Shawn] said that God told him he was going to be okay and He was sending him back and he was going to be alright," Lisa said.
"I wouldn't be here if He didn't want me here for a reason," Shawn said.
"You never want to underestimate the power of prayer," Kelley said. "So many times we pray, pray, pray, and then what we pray for takes place and we give the credit to everybody but the Lord. But Shawn in the Med, there were several times that we almost lost him but he had a family and network of praying people."
Despite Shawn's obstacles, Lisa points to the many miracles within the tragedy. To the fact that Shawn wasn't alone and their kids knew how to do CPR. To the fact that he was able to come back and breathe on his own after nearly drowning. To the fact that Lisa had retired three weeks before the accident so she was free to take care of him. To the fact that she had decided to keep their insurance at the last minute, unaware of the $750,000 hospital bill that they would be faced with.
"Just goes to show you, you're not going to leave until God's ready for you," Lisa said. "He's got a plan, and we wouldn't have made it this far without Him."
For a man whose life and work has always revolved around the outdoors, a devastating injury that takes away his mobility might leave him in despair. But Shawn is holding on to hope.
"The good Lord's got something he's saving me for," Shawn said. "You don't ever know - I might wind up teaching some handicapped kids how to turkey hunt one day."
Brent Walker is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.