Veteran Paraplegic Skydiver Survives Accident After Parachute Gets Stuck In Wheelchair 

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MCKINNEY, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – He survived a hit from a rocket propelled grenade while serving the U.S. armed forces in 2009. Now veteran Michael Vasquez has beat the odds again, remaining alive after a skydiving accident.

Michael Vasquez (credit: Medical City McKinney)

On August 13, his parachute got caught in the tire of his wheelchair, spinning him out of control during his last jump of the day in Whitewright, a town in Grayson County, Texas. Vasquez tried releasing the tangled parachute so he could pull his reserve parachute. The main parachute was partially detached and the reserve parachute did not release. So Vasquez relied on the semi-inflated, partially attached main parachute to soften his landing.

“The tangled parachute slowed me down and I landed at about 12 miles per hour. It saved my life,” Vasquez said. “I hit the ground and I could feel the impact. I knew not to move from the position that I landed and waited for emergency help to arrive.”

Brought to Medical City McKinney’s Level III Trauma Center, Vasquez was diagnosed with a femur fracture after the accident and multiple spinal fractures. Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons focused on treating his injuries and preserving Vasquez’s previous mobility.

Vasquez lost the use of his legs when he was wounded fighting in the Middle East nine years ago. Since returning home, he has focused on becoming a licensed skydiver and jumping from airplanes across the U.S.

“While Vasquez’s war injuries paralyzed his legs, he maintained some function of his hip flexors. This movement gave him a good amount of function to live a quality life and it was our goal to preserve that function,” says Dr. Shashank Gandhi, a neurosurgeon on staff at Medical City McKinney. “Using minimally invasive surgical techniques, we were able to stabilize his spine, so there is no further risk of injury to his spinal cord. These techniques reduce damage to his back muscles, allowing for reduced pain and faster recovery.”

In addition to skydiving, Vasquez is a competitive hand cyclist and competes nationally and internationally, hoping to win a spot on a future U.S.A. Paralympics team.

“The incisions will heal within weeks and once the fractures heal, we can potentially remove the screws and rods out so Michael will not have to live with spinal implants in his back,” says Dr. Gandhi. “Following rehab to help strengthen his back, Michael should be back to his normal quality of life within three months.”

As for Vasquez, he said he's ready to get back to where he was before the accident.

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