By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – From what Joshua Spivey has gathered about his brother Jacob’s July 14 injury—he wasn’t there—Jacob was running and slipped off a platform to the side of the Green Bridge near Deer Creek.
Then surfer, music lover and Navy veteran Jacob Spivey broke his neck. “He was facedown in the river at least 30-45 seconds, people said, and then people had to pull him out,” Joshua said.
Neither Joshua, 39, nor Jacob, 30, are sure if it was impact from the platform or from the bottom of the Gallatin River that broke Jacob’s neck. “We’re assuming he hit the sand bar,” Joshua said, adding that the platform used to have seats in it and wood railings around it. “All the wood siding around it [is] all gone.”
The people Jacob was with that afternoon pulled him out of the river and someone took off in their car toward Big Sky to call 911—there’s no cell phone reception near Deer Creek.
The Big Sky Fire Department arrived and transported Jacob in an ambulance to an area large enough for a helicopter to land—the Lava Lake Trailhead pullout. An air ambulance then flew him to Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.
Jacob’s doctor told Joshua that the window of opportunity “where you get any kind of recovery from an injury like that” is 2-2.5 hours. “It was such a team effort,” Joshua said. “It was amazing.”
“I was able to race down to the hospital and I saw him about two minutes before he went into surgery. He was conscious then, he was just scared,” Joshua said. “I was able to talk to him, to give him a little peace of mind.”
Joshua was joined by his parents during his hospital vigil over the next two weeks. “We don’t leave him alone at all, there’s always somebody there,” Joshua said in a July 26 interview. “I’m there from about 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. and then my pops comes and he does the next shift and we all just kind of hang out during the day.”
Jacob had a breathing tube in for about a week. He contracted pneumonia a couple of days after the accident, which might have developed due to water inhalation from the river. By July 26, he was starting to get his voice back after having a breathing tube in for so long.
The break in Jacob’s neck is severe. Clinicians grade spinal cord injuries on a scale of A to E to classify the extent of the impairment. Jacob’s injury is listed as an “A”—the most serious. “The doctor described it as a nerve traffic jam,” Joshua said. “The nerves are just discombobulated, they don’t know what they’re doing anymore.”
Jacob underwent surgery to stabilize his neck, specifically the C-6 and C-7 vertebrae, which are located toward the bottom of the cervical spine.
“They put what they call a ‘cage’ in his C-7,” Joshua said. “He has four screws on the spinal columns above and below the injury and two metal rods that are supporting his neck now.”
Jacob doesn’t have function from the chest down. “He doesn’t have the ability to control his muscles across the stomach and the side, so he can’t hold himself up, really,” Joshua said. “He has full motion of his arms. His hands are curled. … He can’t do full grip strength because the nerves [for that are] right there, C-7.”
Joshua said they’re still not sure what the full extent of the permanent damage to his little brother’s spinal cord will be.
“[Jacob and I] had a talk [on July 26] and he understands what he’s going to be going through. … He’s accepting of it, he’s just trying to piece together what he’s going to do with his life in case he doesn’t walk again. I tell him not to think that far ahead, just take it day by day. I’m just trying to keep him grounded.”
Jacob worked on F-18s as a mechanic in the Navy and was working at Big Sky restaurant Choppers Grub & Pub with Joshua for the summer. “He was really getting into fly fishing and we were gonna go rafting and hiking and we had our camping gear—that’s kind of why I brought him out here,” Joshua said, adding that his brother is a vibrant, healthy person.
“He’s one of those people that you would say, ‘Why him?’ Out of all the people. … He’s a very giving dude [and] everybody likes hanging out with him.”
Joshua said he knows his brother will go through inevitable ups and downs, but he received good care in the Bozeman hospital and that helped—so did the outpouring of support from social media.
“When I show him the Facebook responses, he gets very emotional. I’m like, ‘See, people are going to reach out for you.’ He’s very uplifted [and] shocked by it.”
Editor’s Note: In an Aug. 2 interview, Joshua said that Jacob had been transferred to a Veterans Affairs hospital in San Diego, California. “So far, so good,” Joshua said of the transition. “He’s mobile, they’ve got him in an electric chair so he can move around.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Spivey family with medical expenses. Visit gofundme.com/jacobspiveymedicalfund for more information.