Sophomore recovers after breaking back

By Emily Wallach

“I wiggled my fingers and toes to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed,” Wesley Friedman ’12 recalled. “I was told not to move. To put it nicely, I was alright, but it hurt.”

After he was stabilized on a stretcher and the paramedics cut his backpack off, Friedman was airlifted to the nearest clinic where he was then taken by ambulance, with an IV in tow, to the biggest trauma center on the South Island of New Zealand. It was there that Friedman’s injury was verified; he had a broken back, including five broken vertebrae in his spine. He was injured during a somersault he took heliskiing on an icy run while on a month-long summer program to Fiji, Australia and New Zealand.

Friedman was hospitalized on the South Island of New Zealand for a week after his Aug. 3 accident. At one point, he lay flat on his back for two days until a back brace was molded.

“My older brother stayed by my side in the hospital everyday. [The accident] was the day after his birthday. I feel bad that this was his birthday present,” Friedman said, laughing.

Almost two months after his accident, Friedman said he is “just lucky to be alive and walking.” However, as he is still unable to sit up for long periods of time, he is taking his classes at home, with the assistance of tutors, his teachers and his classmates.

“Generally, I try to do two tutors a day, everyday, even on the weekends,” Friedman said. “My tutors teach me whatever is going on in class. On my own I do homework, but I really have to manage my time since I can only sit up for so long.”

Tests and quizzes are administered by his tutors and then sent to his school teachers for grading.

Notes are gathered for Friedman by different students and collected in a folder in the deans’ office, he said.

“History is most dependent on the [students’] notes,” he said.

Moodle has also been a key aspect in keeping him up-to-date with class notes in math, Spanish and chemistry.

For the first week of school, Friedman tried sitting in on his classes through a web cam system. A school intern would go to his classes with a computer and turn the camera to the front of the class so that Friedman could see the teacher and the board from his home computer, he explained. But the video lectures ended after the first week.

“The video clarity wasn’t great,” Friedman said. “And I couldn’t see anything on the board or understand the lecturing.”

For Friedman, the hardest parts of his situation are being home alone and not seeing his friends.

“I don’t get to see my friends very often,” he said. “But talking to my friends keeps me going. Without them, I don’t know what I would do.”

Friedman plans to return to school for second semester around January or February, but he will continue to be in a brace for another two or three months before beginning to wean himself off the support of the brace, he said.

“Everything that people take for granted, for example, getting out of bed, is a big thing for me,” he said.

Friedman is happy just to be able to walk.

“Without my brace, my back would be totally misaligned, but it’s just a small price to pay [to wear the brace],” he said. “I’m lucky.”