Gates continues to impress everyone with his will and strength. He is now breathing on his own. Doctors are hopeful they won’t have to perform the tracheotomy as previously suspected; Gates’ lungs are now clear and functioning perfectly.
For the first time, in more than three days, Gates got to do something we all take for granted; he got to sit up for about 45 minutes. To sit up was one of Gates’ first request just hours after the incident. Doctors continue to wean him off of the heavy medication, allowing him to be more coherent and alert.
As promised, after talking to Garrett, who was the only individual with Gates when the accident happened, I have formulated his comments and thoughts in the following story.
Before I share what happened, I want to tell of the Hunsaker Family’s love for all of Gates’ friends and specifically for Garrett for his efforts in keeping Gates comfortable till help arrived. Reiterating what I wrote yesterday, Brian told me, “Garrett has a pure and good heart. He’s such a great kid. Gates couldn’t ask for a better friend.”
Finally, snowboarding that fateful afternoon was nothing but normal for these young men. This is what they do! They enjoy the outdoors whether it’s snowboarding, mountain biking, skydiving, or out on the lake they are active and full of life. Gates’ incident was an unfortunate and devastating result of one miscue, not a reckless, careless action.
Garrett Millward’s Story:
Just like every other day, Garrett Millward drove his truck mechanically to the Hunsaker home. It was an ideal April afternoon; the sun was out, the hills were covered in snow and fresh powder was just waiting to be crushed.
As Garrett entered the living room, Gates sat with his youngest siblings, Avery and Reese cuddled near their big brother’s feet, Gentry was just a couple cushions away, all eight eyes glued to the television. Garrett plopped down on the sofa and joined Gates’ entourage as they enjoyed the last few moments, of carefree living, before Gates was to report to the MTC.
Instinctively, as they’ve done hundreds of times before, Gates began preparing himself for the daily routine, a run up to the mountain. He gathered his things and without much more than a few pleasantries, they found themselves in Garrett’s truck and on their way up the hill.
They drove up the canyon, stopping at where they determined would be the “perfect place” to “gap the river.” The plan was to build a jump and take a couple runs before Gates had to scurry back and clean up for what would be his next big adventure, his mission to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
As they crossed the river, Gates stopped Garrett and said, looking over the frosted hillside and ice-cold stream, “Man, this is livin’!” Not more than a few minutes passed before Gates took the time to again recognize, “This is so cool. This is what it’s all about.”
No strangers to the process, the guys began building. Upon completion the two decided they’d built the ramp too big and needed to “mellow it out a little.” The boys reminisced as they dug and stopped only to catch their breath and take pleasure in the fresh air and surroundings, appreciating every minute, knowing it would be some time before they would be on the mountain again.
They took some test runs, checking speed and approach. The goal wasn’t to perform any acrobatics but to just “gap the river” and land safely on the other side.
Gates’ phone rang, it was his dad. After a quick discussion Gates looked at Garrett and said smiling, “Let’s do it… I’ve got to get going soon.”
Garrett: “Cool, who’s up, you or me?”
Garrett: “Alright, remember it’s better to overshoot the jump than to hit it too slow and jump short. Charge it, Bro, keep your speed up.”
Garrett ran down the hill to position himself, camera in hand, as Gates readied his board; Gates stood up, took a deep breath and began his decent, sight on the jump, he approached.
The instant the tail of Gates’ board left the snowy ramp, they both knew Gates was in a bad spot. He’d lost his balance; arms flailing, attempting to gain control, Gates slowly rotated to where he was horizontal to the ground and headed toward the cold hard embankment on the other side of the river.
He hit; he hit hard.
Gates’ head and neck made contact first, his torso crashed on the waters edge and his legs and board splashed into the freezing waters.
Garrett straight away dropped the camera and ran to his ailing friend. When he got to Gates’ side, Gates was unconscious and “snoring.” Understanding the severity of the situation, and the potential delicacy and nature of Gate’s injury, Garrett called loudly to Gates to see if he could wake him without attempting to move him.
Gates slipped in and out of consciousness but Garrett worked diligently trying to keep him awake.
Garrett: “Gates, are you o.k.? Is anything broken?”
Gates: “Nothing seems broken… but I can’t feel my legs.”
Garrett: “Gates, please, your scaring me, tell me you can feel your legs.”
Garrett plunged his hand under the water and pinched the inside of Gates’ leg; Gates didn’t respond or react.
Garrett: “Do you have your phone on you?”
Gates: “Yes, it’s in my pant pocket.”
Where they were in the canyon the phone showed only “one bar of signal.” On the first attempt of calling 9-1-1 the call had difficulty going through; gratefully he heard a voice on the other end of the line.
While talking to emergency operators, Garrett would move just a few inches, to talk to Gates to keep him conscious, and he would lose the call. Several calls were made to 9-1-1 dispatch where the only directions Garrett could give them were to “look for my truck on the side of the road.”
Upon ending the call, Gates called for Garrett’s attention.
Gates: “Garrett, we need to say a prayer, man.”
Garrett took his “brother” by the hand, bowed his head and began to utter the most fervent and faith inspired prayer his heart could muster.
Gates reverently closed his eyes.
Garrett prayed that Gates would be o.k., he prayed that emergency responders would find them promptly and they would work quickly to get him the help he needed; pleading again and again, “Please… Please… Father, bless Gates.”
As they finished their prayer, Garrett opened his eyes to see the first responder hastily making his way down the hill; another miracle considering the directions Garrett was able to conjure.
The ambulance and medics showed up minutes later dressed in their dry suits and jumped in the river. They secured Gates’ neck with a brace and put him on a board to get him out of the water.
Medics rushed both young men to an awaiting ambulance and sounds of Life Flight thundered the canyon. Gates was treated for hypothermia and loaded on the helicopter. Garrett was treated in the ambulance and was released just in time to watch the chopper lift off, glide over the hill and disappear out of sight.
Garrett’s parents met him at the hospital where they were escorted to a private area. A short time later Brian entered the room, where the Millward family waited with heavy hearts, it was there Brian shared with them what the doctors explained Gates could expect.
Miracles and Tender Mercies:
Miracles and Tender Mercies:
- Gates is breathing on his own now, with clear healthy lungs.
- There was enough cell phone coverage to communicate the basic area where Gates and Garrett lay.
- First responders arrived within minutes of the initial calls to 9-1-1