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Back in the Rocky Mountains After a Brain Injury

August 16, 2021

James Hall enjoyed an active Colorado lifestyle and took advantage of the mountains around his hometown of Aspen by skiing more than 100 days each season, hiking and mountain biking. In March 2020, James was spending a day snowmobiling with friends when his throttle got stuck open as he was climbing a hill. He collided with a tree, breaking his skull, his C7 and T1 vertebrae, and two bones in his foot and his clavicle, and also resulting in a collapsed lung.

After being airlifted off the mountain and brought to a hospital in Grand Junction, he was transferred to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver where he had surgery to repair and replace parts of his broken skull.

“When I first woke up, I couldn’t talk or walk. I was conscious but I couldn’t communicate back to people,” says James. “For example, I couldn’t come up with my mom’s first name. It was really bizarre to not be able to communicate.”

James Hall in hospital bed

James was connected with Dr. Eric Spier, Craig Hospital’s Brain Injury Program Medical Director, through his surgeon at St. Anthony’s and learned about Craig. He also considered a more general rehabilitation hospital near his hometown and family in Houston, Texas, but in comparing the two, he felt the specialized treatment in neurorehabilitation at Craig was going to be better for getting him back to doing the things he loved as soon as possible.

James Hall looking at camera with bandage on brain surgery scar

James transferred to Craig about a week after his surgery. It was the very early days of the pandemic when visitors were not allowed due to COVID-19 precautions. He says that the solitude wasn’t so bad, however, as it allowed him to really focus on his therapy and getting the work done. James also says the staff at Craig became like family to him and helped get him through his rehabilitation.

“You never really want to be in the hospital, but my time at Craig was as good as it possibly could have been thanks to the people. Everyone on that team was so kind and patient with me,” says James.

When he arrived at Craig, he was just beginning to be able to walk but had a long way to go; it took some time to regain his balance. He had intensive physical therapy and occupational therapy each day and worked with a speech therapist twice a day to regain his communication skills. James also really enjoyed the breathwork, including Zen class, Tai-Chi and yoga, that was part of his therapy to help him stay centered and focused.

After about a month at Craig, he was able to walk and talk again, and after two months left Craig and went to nearby St. Anthony’s hospital to have additional surgery to repair his skull. Two days after he arrived back home in Aspen, James hiked a nearby mountain with a friend, an exciting return to his outdoor lifestyle. He says his dogs and his friends were his greatest motivation to get home and get back to his routine.

James Hall at site of snowmobile accident

Just one year after his accident, he skinned (skiing uphill with special bindings) up the mountain to the tree he’d hit and reflected on his recovery and the people who helped him along the way. He is back to skiing, hiking 14ers and enjoying the mountains with a new appreciation for being able to be present. “Aspen is an amazing community that I am so thankful to call home.”

James Hall on summit of a Colorado mountain