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When Ammon Butcher became a quadriplegic at 16-years-old, his life had only just begun

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“Has Ammon done anything, since the accident, that has surprised or amazed you?” I ask.

“No,” Barbara Butcher replies immediately, “I have never doubted that he could do anything he set his mind to.”

In early 2007, Ammon was halfway through his junior year at Plano East Senior High,  where a position on the varsity wrestling team served as his main focus. A church-sponsored Boy Scout troop also provided him ample opportunities for camping, fishing, and sharing campfires with friends and leaders. His parents, Jeff and Barbara Butcher, encouraged his extra-curricular activities and those of his seven siblings. The family was dedicated to their church community and placed a high priority on serving others.

Ammon’s brother, Daniel, shared his love of wrestling, and in mid-January, the pair boarded a school bus bound for a wrestling competition hosted by Arlington LaMarr High School.  Their mom, Barbara, followed on icy roads to watch her oldest son compete in the sport he loved.

Aware of the strength of his muscular 140-pound frame, Ammon walked confidently onto the mat and into the wrestling ring. The two challengers began to grapple, seeking out each other’s vulnerabilities. During the second period, his opponent lifted Ammon’s body, intending to throw him onto his back. It was a common tactic, completely within the rules of high school competition. Instead, Ammon’s head hit the mat with the full force of his entire weight. The cheering audience fell instantly quiet as Ammon’s body crumpled silently to the floor.

“I knew immediately that something was very wrong,” Barbara remembers, “and hurried down to be by his side.”

Ammon was rushed by ambulance to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, the closest trauma center. Doctors inserted a plate to stabilize his neck, but didn’t give Barbara much hope that her first son would ever walk again.  Ammon later transferred to Zale Lipshy Hospital in Dallas for a specialized procedure to re-align the vertebrae that jutted out from the rest of his spine.

Following this second surgery, Ammon spent 26 days in the ICU, much of it intubated. A tracheotomy tube followed, which remained in place until after he had transferred to rehab. “Ammon lost 30 pounds in the first month, all of it muscle,” recalls his mother. “ I stayed by his bedside during the week, and his father took my place on the weekends. His accident affected all of us. Our other children had to adjust to being a one-parent family.”

Good friends and members of their church rallied around the Butchers, doing whatever they could to help.  His high school wrestling coach raised over $50,000 for Ammon’s medical expenses.

Following his release from Zale Lipsky, Ammon’s next stop was Baylor Institute of Rehabilitation (BIR) in central Dallas. The BIR psychiatrist assigned to Ammon’s case had expected to find a young man charged with negative emotions, but she was surprised to find a teenager devoid of anger and self-pity.

“She once asked me why I felt at peace with my situation,” Ammon recalls. “I told her that I had been focused on building my faith during the two years before the accident. I knew that the Lord was aware of me and my struggles, and still had a plan for me, regardless of my physical limitations.”

Three months after the accident, the Butchers found a used van, complete with a lift and tie-downs to bring Ammon home. But their Lucas ranch house was ill prepared for the needs of a quadriplegic. The family game room became a makeshift bedroom while a contractor widened doors, installed a roll-in shower, and added an extra vent and heater to his room. Eventually all of his medical equipment, including a hospital bed and standing frame, found their way to the new bedroom he shared with one of his brothers. Although Ammon had access through the garage, a friend built a permanent ramp at the front door as his Eagle service project.

In the rehab facility, Ammon had felt like everyone else, struggling to learn how to swallow and transfer from his bed to chair and back again. At home, he was a disabled young man in a house filled with boisterous siblings.  

“It was then that the harshness of my circumstances became obvious,” remembers Ammon.  To combat those feelings, Ammon focused on his future. He re-enrolled in Plano ISD and completed his junior year from home. During senior year, he never missed a day of school and graduated with his class in June 2008. Then, in December 2013, with the aid of voice recognition software, a series of caregivers, an understanding faculty, and helpful peers, Ammon graduated from BYU Idaho University in Rexburg, Idaho with a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting..   

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Well-known throughout the campus, Ammon spoke at the BYUI commencement ceremony.  “My diploma represents five difficult years of consistent effort towards a worthwhile goal; it represents a great sacrifice of time and of money; it represents the good that can come from delayed gratification; it represents a major contribution to preparing for future employment that I might provide for my future spouse and children; it represents quality time with quality people and lasting relationships; and, most importantly, it stands as a testimony of the blessings that come from adhering to a higher standard of living and from striving to pattern my life after the patterns established by God.”

Since 2013, Ammon Butcher has successfully pursued a master’s degree, a Certified Public Accounting license, and full-time employment. He is now back home in Lucas pursuing his doctoral studies under the prestigious Eugene McDermott graduate fellowship program at the University of Texas at Dallas.

“How is it that you have been able to accomplish so much, despite your circumstances?” I ask.

“My story is not unique,” says Ammon. “Life gets difficult and frustrating for everyone when things don’t go as you expect them to.  You can either be bitter or you can make the most of it. My circumstances may be extreme, but I have been blessed to have met some of the best people on earth because of my situation. Some have been my caregivers, and others have helped me to make my dreams a reality. In the last eleven years, I have learned to be grateful and humble, to work hard and to mature, and most importantly, to find a place where I can make a difference. My life is abundant and full, and I’m not sure how anyone could be more blessed than that.”

Linda Chism
Linda Chism is a freelance writer who specializes in stories about ordinary people and their extraordinary experiences. Her articles have appeared on stroke.org and in the Plano Profile and Garland Texan online editions. In addition to her love of writing, she enjoys puttering in her garden, chasing down family history, and serving as the historian for her church congregation.

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