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Future in clear sight
Injury brings hope to gradBy Jon Mark Beilue
Thirteen surgeries and two inches later, Tyler Baker, 17, is not only graduating from Sanford-Fritch on Friday, but he's graduating a year ahead of schedule. His reasoning is pretty simple.
"I used to be real involved in sports, and I figured that if I can't play sports any more, I should be able to accomplish other things sooner," he said. "And my girlfriend is a year ahead of me, and we wanted to go to college together."
Oh, so maybe the truth does come out. Or maybe Baker has a single-minded determination and relentlessly upbeat attitude since he nearly lost his left foot in a horrific ATV accident three years ago.
"I just respect all he's gone through," classmate John Ware said. "Just to see how mentally tough he's been and how he's just kept on going is really something."
Baker was 14 when he and friend Buddy Leggett were riding ATVs in the Lake Meredith Harbor Area on St. Patrick's Day 2005. Baker took a curve apparently too fast for the conditions, causing the 1,200-pound Yamaha Rhino to fall on its side. Baker's leg was trapped underneath as the vehicle skidded 40 feet.
"It basically severed off my lower leg," Baker said. "The only thing holding it on was a piece of skin."
Baker was airlifted to an Amarillo hospital, where he and his parents, James and Suzanne, were told about the only thing that could be done was to amputate. The Bakers weren't accepting that opinion, and Tyler was flown to University Medical Center in Lubbock.
Baker was at UMC for 21 days. He underwent muscle grafts, skin grafts and artery grafts. He had two inches of bone in his leg removed and two plates and 12 screws inserted. His leg was saved.
The recovery, though, was just beginning as Baker went from wheelchair to crutches to physical therapy to the hospital and back again. In all, Baker endured 13 surgeries, which includes one a little more than a year ago when he ruptured a disc in his back when he fell while on crutches.
No surgery was as unusual - or ultimately as helpful - as one in 2006 when he got back the two inches in his leg that he'd lost. Doctors in Lubbock inserted a device, a German invention, in which pins were put in his leg to stretch the bone. For three months, Baker manually would turn screws a millimeter each day.
It worked. Baker, at 5 feet, 11 inches, got back the two inches he'd previously lost.
What Baker also lost was a lot of regular school time. He missed the last two months of his eighth-grade year because of the accident, making up the missed time with assignments at home. And for every surgery he had during the school year, that was at least one week of missed time.
Despite that, Baker didn't just keep up, he got ahead. He loaded up on classes at Sanford-Fritch and went to summer school at Frank Phillips College in Borger.
Once scheduled to be in the Class of 2009, Baker will walk - and with just a little bit of a limp - with the Class of 2008 this week.
Accidents in Yamaha Rhinos are not uncommon. In fact, there's a Web site focused on rollovers in the vehicle. The Bakers considered joining a class-action lawsuit against the company, but ultimately declined. Their focus is on the future.
Baker already has a small business of detailing cars, Advanced Detail. He will study business at West Texas A&M. With 15 college credit hours earned, plus more summer school, Baker could be a junior by the summer of 2009.
His only regret since the accident has been the inability to play sports. He was the starting quarterback in middle school, played basketball and baseball, and ran track as well.
"That was tough," he said. "Right after the wreck, when my dad arrived on the scene, I wasn't crying. When I asked if I would be able to play football again, he said no, and that was probably the only time I cried during that whole thing."
Celebrate Education is a yearlong community project to encourage lifelong learning and help raise the education level in the Texas Panhandle.
Editor's Note: The Amarillo Globe-News is profiling a student a day from May 9-29 as part of its 2008 graduation coverage. Students were nominated by Globe-News readers.
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