October 18, 2006 was a rainy Wednesday in Eunice, Louisiana. Rain coats were on, umbrellas were up and practice was canceled for the Louisiana State University in Eunice baseball team. On that day, lightning struck a couple of apartment complexes. Also on that day, a young man would strike his head so forcefully, he would break his neck and never walk again.
Bryan Jaeger graduated from Haughton High School in 2005. Haughton is a quaint town on the outskirts of Bossier City in Northern Louisiana. This small community believes in religion, knowing your neighbors and Friday night football. After high school, Jaeger attended LSU-Eunice to play baseball, where he was instrumental in the team’s 2006 Junior College World Series Championship win.
Life was good for Jaeger. A new school year was underway, his team just won a world championship and he was a recent recruit for the Colorado Rockies, Major League Baseball Team. Little did he know, tragedy was not far from Eunice.
Because baseball practice had been canceled, Jaeger and the rest of his teammates decided to play football in the rain. On his way to the muddy field, Jaeger jumped over a ditch, lost his footing and slid head-first into a drainage ditch. The impact caused Jaeger’s head to jolt backwards, breaking the vertebrates in his neck.
“I remember I could see everyone’s faces and I knew something was wrong,” Jaeger said. “I didn’t know then that you could break your neck and still be alive.”
Because lighting struck apartment complexes nearby, fire fighters were nearby to take Jaeger to the Eunice emergency room. After a few days of heavy medication, he was air lifted to LSU Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The night before his surgery, Jaeger was told he had a serious spinal cord injury and would never walk again. His C7 vertebra was fractured and his C6 was completely shattered. Both neck bones are essential for brain connectivity and function to the lower body.
“I didn’t believe it. I’ve always been the type of person that wants to prove people wrong, and I’ve always been such a hard worker. Baseball was my life ever since I started walking and in an instant it was gone. Every year when the draft happens, I get a little down. It’s a tough day for me,” Jaeger said.
Most spinal cord injury victims do not get their arm strength back, but because Jaeger was an athlete and his arms and back muscles were already strong, his strength returned within months. During more than six months of physical therapy, Jaeger learned how to live a new life, the life of a 19 year old in a wheelchair.
The next several years would be filled with more changes and challenges than Jaeger had expected. In 2010, Jaeger suffered from a pressure sore, due to a cut on the back of his leg. A pressure sore is a deep cut that only heals from not putting pressure on the spot, and are common in wheelchair bound individuals. Not putting pressure on a pressure sore is almost impossible for someone confined to a wheelchair. Jaeger finally had surgery to completely heal his sore, but only after two and a half long years of bed rest.
As fate would have it, on July 30, 2013, Jaeger suffered terribly again when he was admitted back into the hospital. While at work, Jaeger passed out and was rushed to the Willis-Knighton emergency room in Bossier City.
Doctors and nurses soon realized Jaeger was in a state of crisis due to the illness of sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection in the bloodstream. Jaeger also suffered from a urinary tract infection, pneumonia and kidney stones serious enough to cause acute renal failure. There was a serious chance that he would not survive.
During his unconscious stay, Jaeger was moved to several different floors, until he finally placed back on his original floor, but this time under the care of a nurse named Samantha Maddry.
While under the care of Maddry, Jaeger finally awoke after being unconscious for two weeks. He briefly met his new nurse but was still in and out of consciousness for the next several days. He began to speak again but only in broken sentences and repetition.
“He just kept repeating, ‘Samantha is my nurse. Samantha is the hot one,’” Maddry said, laughing at the embarrassing memory.
Jaeger subconsciously developed a crush on his new nurse, which he soon learned he already had many connections to through several friends and various community members.
“I am thankful for that stay in the hospital for a couple of reasons. I was so sick and could have died, but this experience brought me back to a good relationship with God. Also, meeting Samantha was pretty amazing,” Jaeger said.
On August 23, 2013 Jaeger was discharged from the hospital. Five days later Jaeger celebrated his 26th birthday and invited Maddry to dinner with him and his family. Having reservations because of her professional position, Maddry confided in friends and family if going was a smart decision.
“I just got to know what a wonderful person he was and how sweet his family was,” Maddry said. “After talking to my parents and praying about it, I decided to go, and I am so glad I did.”
After several dates and almost constant communication, Jaeger and Maddry officially began dating a month later. Seven months after that, Jaeger proposed.
“She has brought me a happiness that I didn’t think was possible,” Jaeger said. “I thought marriage was something that would be a long time down the road, if it ever happened. I never thought I could find someone that could look past the disability and accept me for me, not just as a guy in a wheelchair.”
The two are to be married this November and plan to live happily ever after in the small town of Haughton.