Archive for Friday, November 28, 2008

Recovery slow for victim of 2006 Cat Tracker accident

Abilene Reflector-Chronicle sportswriter Chris Orr is seen at his desk in Salina, Kan., Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008. Orr, who covers local sports in Abilene and Dickinson county schools, survived a traumatic head injury.

Abilene Reflector-Chronicle sportswriter Chris Orr is seen at his desk in Salina, Kan., Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008. Orr, who covers local sports in Abilene and Dickinson county schools, survived a traumatic head injury.

November 28, 2008


Two years on, Cat Tracker victim continues recovery

A Salina man continues a slow, but steady recovery from a 2006 accident in Lawrence. Enlarge video

— It’s been two years since doctors removed part of Chris Orr’s skull and put it in his abdomen.

They did this so the Salina man would have a better chance of surviving a traumatic head injury that had caused his brain to swell.

After removing the section of skull, doctors put a protective cap over Chris’ exposed brain.

He wasn’t given much hope — about a 20 percent chance of survival, he heard later. There was a good chance he’d end up severely disabled, or more likely, dead within a week.

He survived his ordeal, but at a great cost.

Because Chris’ brain injury was primarily to the frontal lobe, he lost a lot of his short-term memory, developed vision and balance problems and faced difficulty with his visual memory.

“I can’t remember faces,” said Chris, 36. “I can be talking with someone, and they’ll leave the room and come back an hour later, and I won’t remember who they were. If I know someone from church and see them in the grocery store, I won’t know who they are because I’m seeing them out of their normal setting.”

Even those closest to him are not immune.

“Sometimes I haven’t remembered my wife,” he said as his eyes began to tear.

Tears come easier to Chris now, along with emotional highs and lows and anger — normal results of massive brain trauma.

But it’s been two years since his injury, and Chris is still alive. For that, he’s forever thankful.

“I’ve beaten the odds,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been given a second chance.”

Day of the accident

Chris doesn’t remember anything about Nov. 18, 2006, except that he was looking forward to a “guy” weekend of football and fun. Chris, a former sportswriter for the Salina Journal who also had published a high school sports magazine, was a fan of all sports, especially baseball.

He also was a passionate Kansas State University Wildcat fan, and there was no bigger game that weekend than the showdown with Kansas University in Lawrence.

Chris intended to go to Lawrence on a Saturday, and then head to Kansas City to join Sigma Chi fraternity brother Josh Callahan for a Kansas City Chiefs game Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

He ended up in Kansas City, but far from the way he intended.

While riding on the Cat Tracker, a converted school bus that took Wildcat fans to games outside Manhattan, Chris struck his head on a concrete bridge near the stadium.

The bus had a ladder leading to a metal deck on top. Several other people reportedly were sitting on top of the bus, but only Chris and Shawnee resident John Green struck their heads as the bus passed under the bridge. Green, 27, was killed instantly.

Because of a pending lawsuit, Chris was unable to discuss the circumstances of that day — not that he remembers anything about it.

“I can’t remember anything two weeks before the accident,” Chris said.

Chris was flown to the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, where he was put in the hospital’s neuro-intensive care unit.

His wife, Stacey, had stayed behind in Salina with the couple’s two young sons, Caleb and Tyce. She received a call informing her of Chris’ injury from Chris’ father, Jerry, who had been called by a person riding on the Cat Tracker bus.

“I got the boys and tried to throw things in a suitcase,” she said. “It was awful. It was the longest drive of my life.”

When Stacey arrived at the hospital and first saw Chris, she was shocked.

“Tubes were coming out of his head, machines were all around him, and there was a tremendous amount of swelling,” she said.

A few days after his arrival, the front of the top part of Chris’ skull was removed to allow his brain to continue swelling and begin to heal itself. The skull portion was put in his abdomen to allow blood flow to continue so it later could be reattached.

Chris was in a coma for about a month. Josh Callahan, who had been looking forward to spending Sunday with Chris at the Chiefs’ game, instead found himself by Chris’ bedside, looking into his fraternity brother’s battered face.

“It was shocking to see him,” said Josh, who originally is from Baldwin City and now lives in Hays. “He looked like he’d been on the wrong end of a bad fight.”

Sign of hope

No one knew when or if Chris would awaken, but Josh said he was given a sign of hope just before Christmas that Chris might be coming back.

“I gave him the handshake we always give each other in public when greeting a fellow Sigma Chi,” Josh said. “He shook my hand with that grip.”

When Chris began coming out of the coma, it was a gradual process, Stacey said.

“It’s not like you see on TV where they wake up right away,” she said. “One day he’d open one eye. One day he’d be awake 20 minutes and go back to sleep.”

Stacey stayed by Chris’ side during most of the month of his coma, reading newspapers, books and cards and letters from friends and relatives sent to the hospital.

Finally, Chris awoke.

“He had a tracheotomy (an incision in the windpipe to allow breathing) so he couldn’t talk,” Stacey said. “It’s hard to say if he knew who I was right away.”

Chris thought he said “I love you” to his wife, but he can’t remember if it really happened.

After regaining some strength, Chris began physical, speech and occupational rehabilitation at the hospital. That lasted through Feb. 11, when he was released.

“There were some days during rehab that he knew who I was, and some days he didn’t,” Stacey said. “One day he thought I was his sister.”

Throughout this time, Chris’ skull was still in his belly and he still wore a protective cap to protect his exposed brain.

“The least they could have given me was a Royals or Chiefs hat,” he said.

Doctors reattached Chris’ skull on Feb. 9, two days after his father’s birthday.

“I didn’t get him (his father) a birthday present that year, so that was his present,” Chris said.

Returning to ‘new normal’

After returning to Salina, Chris continued to receive therapy until October 2007. While he has continued to improve since then, he knows he’s far from being 100 percent.

“My balance is not good — I’ve fallen down the stairs at home three times — I have some double vision,” Chris said. “I’m seeing a psychiatrist for my emotional issues, and I’m still on disability.”

This fall, Chris achieved an important milestone in his recovery — he went back to work. Before his injury he had left sportswriting and was managing The Jacket Shack, a store at Salina’s Central Mall.

But he still wanted to write sports stories, and he was given a chance to do so at the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle. Editor-publisher Dave Bergmeier hired him to work 30 to 35 hours a week covering local sports events at Abilene and Dickinson County schools.

“He’s been able to keep up with things and works hard at it,” Bergmeier said. “He knows how important sports is to our market, so he’s really focused on doing a good job.”

Chris said is grateful for the opportunity.

“I always thought I’d be able to go back to work,” he said. “I covered a wrestling tournament in Salina and was able to see my byline again. It was one of the best days of my life.”

Callahan said he’s seen profound changes in Chris’s appearance and abilities since sharing that fraternity handshake two years ago.

“He’s come a tremendous way,” Callahan said. “At first he was like a little boy. Just in the last year, you can definitely see he’s grown up again. There’s still a ways to go, but where he’s come in two years is amazing.”

Chris’ recovery challenges haven’t always been easy on those around him — Stacey, Caleb and Tyce, now 13 and 9 respectively.

“The part of the brain he injured controls emotions and personality, so he’s a whole different person now,” Stacey said. “But then I see actions that remind me of the old Chris. We’re still in the process of figuring everything out.”

The boys are taking the changes in their father as well as they can, Stacey said.

“They know he had an accident and had a brain injury, but I’m not sure to what extent they understand everything,” she said. “But kids are resilient. I’m just thankful the boys still have their father.”

Stacey also is thankful for friends, family members and “everyone else for the support, help and prayers they have provided us over the past two years.”

For two years, Stacy said, her family has been “a work in progress.”

“We need to get the family back to normal,” she said. “But it will be a new normal.”


Dixie Jones 9 years, 4 months ago

hang in there chris, ur a tough man no doubt, u have alot of people pullin for you. god bless you and your family.

Ryan Wood 9 years, 4 months ago

Sad story, but I'm glad things are slowly heading toward normal again. I've always wondered how he's progressed and it sounds like it continues to get better.

Thats_messed_up 9 years, 4 months ago

thanks Marion......................idiot.

Deja Coffin 9 years, 4 months ago

I'm happy to hear he is recovering well. Brain injuries are the hardest injury to really predict the outcome of the patient. Things can change so much in the hospital. One day good, the next horrible. I'm glad that all that is past the family and they can focus on their new normal. I hope he continues to get even better. And Marion, I honestly can't say that I wouldn't ride up there. If there's seats and people are up there, I don't know if I'd really think too much about it. I think that maybe you should just be thankful that you've never made a mistake in your life that you've had to pay for.

Robert Rauktis 9 years, 4 months ago

Wasn't this "Cat Tracker" also owned by the same lawyer who is building that "posh" hotel by KU's campus?

Sharon Aikins 9 years, 4 months ago

A lot of people are killed or severely injured in accidents. A lot of people do unwise, even stupid things. If they are injured doing them, do we not have compassion for them? If life was always so practical, there would be no auto accidents where young people are killed. Do we not let any of them drive? Life happens, we don't always do the smartest thing. But I hope to God that if I am ever injured a certain party here is not there, analyzing the situation and deciding whether I deserve any mercy or compassion. "Oops, she was stupid, no need to call 911."

Deja Coffin 9 years, 4 months ago

Maybe the reason I have compassion for this person is because I've lost people to accidents. I lost people that mean the world to me because of one bad decision. And if they thought for a second that at that moment they could have gotten hurt, they wouldn't have done it. But when you're in the moment and you're not really thinking about every single bad thing that can go wrong, things happen. I'm so sad that I lost these people but accidents happen. I'd like to think that I'm a cautious person but that doesn't mean I'm never going to make a mistake. If someone chokes on food and dies are you getting on here preaching about chewing your food 20 times each bite? Be thankful that you look at the world in an almost paranoid way in order to avoid all accidents. And again be happy you've never went to a funeral for someone you love because they chose to make one decision that in hind sight wasn't a good idea.

Judgesmails 9 years, 4 months ago

red_devil (Anonymous) says… Hey Chris…just to jog your memory KSU was beaten by KU, and you are a huge KU fan. Remember know??__Thats hiliarous........maybe you should consider being a professional comedian?You are an idiot and you cant spell.

Zype 9 years, 4 months ago

Weren't they not only on the roof, but standing on it?"Life happens, we don't always do the smartest thing."Yeah, but does that mean we don't have to take responsibility for the mistakes we make? Him suing the owner of the bus because of that accident sounds like shirking responsibility to me.

Alison Roberts 9 years, 4 months ago

I am very glad to hear that he is recovering. I do, however, agree that he shouldnt be suing the owners of the bus. It was his decision to climb up to the top.

kiddofriendy 9 years, 4 months ago

I'm so glad this story was posted. I think of both victims everytime I drive under that bridge. Although I don't know any of the people involved, I'm happy to hear that Chris is better and that he has a wonderful family supporting him.

kateku 9 years, 4 months ago

I am also glad to hear he is recovering. But...he should not have been up on top of the bus to begin with. The double-decker buses in London are made for passenger riding. The Cat Tracker bus was not. If these adults were on the bus, they were responsible for their actions. Maybe the owner should have had everyone sign a release before people even look at the bus, that would help cut out the frivolous lawsuits. I also think making the leap between a commercial airliner and the cat tracker is hard to do. You are paying for service from a company in once instance and boozing your way to a game in the other.I'll continue to pray for his recovery and that his family realizes he made a dumb mistake and is alive to talk about it.

Robert Rauktis 9 years, 4 months ago

I was informed that the lawyer who used to be part of that consortium that is building the new hotel is not NOW one of those developers. I'm glad, as apparently they don't bother to teach public safety and good judgment in law school if the lawyer was profiting on people riding in a vehicle without a mandatory "Duck" sign. Maybe that applies only in Oregon. The ambulance chasers are like gum on your shoe... apparently ya just can't get rid of them once they pick up the scent.

packs_of_wild_dogzz 9 years, 4 months ago

Judgesmails (Anonymous) says…red_devil (Anonymous) says…Hey Chris…just to jog your memory KSU was beaten by KU, and you are a huge KU fan. Remember know??__Thats hiliarous……..maybe you should consider being a professional comedian?You are an idiot and you cant spell+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++HAHA. Red_devil may not be able to spell but the idiot is the one that calls out others for misspelling and then does the exact same thing. Douche.

cutny 9 years, 4 months ago

Note to self: Do not stand on the roof of moving buses.Get well soon. Your family needs you.

Deja Coffin 9 years, 4 months ago

Marion, wrongo boyo? I'm a woman but nice try. I am glad that I am not a friend or loved one of yours that made one bad choice. I think that if it was truly someone very close to you, a mother, brother, or lover, it'd be a much different answer. But I know that would go against what you try to portray on here so it's okay. My grandpa died ultimately by choking on a piece of food should I show no sympathy for him not fully chewing that piece? My cousin was killed by her boyfriend, again, her fault for being with him? And my brother died from a 4 wheeler wreck, all their faults right? He should have predicted the dog running in front of him? People make choices and accidents happen. Given just what I've read in articles I don't agree with him suing the bus, but I don't know the whole story. Again, his choice. But we aren't all paranoid like you and think about every single thing that could go wrong before doing something. Sometimes you just do something without thinking and unfortunately he's paying for it.

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