Originally created 04/21/00

Young victim seeks return to home, life



During a February camping trip, Chad Hett personified perseverance.

Only two months after a nearly fatal wreck on an all-terrain vehicle, Mr. Hett and his fellow patients at Shepherd Center Hospital in Atlanta took a camping trip at a north Georgia plantation farmhouse.

Although still in a wheelchair, Mr. Hett didn't hesitate to confront the very thing that forced him into the chair.

"I was absolutely ready to get back on," he said.

His grandmother, Earlene Hett, said he had always been a hard worker.

"He is a determined young man," she said. "I've never seen a lazy bone in that boy -- he is a fighter. He wants to take control of his life."

Today, after four months in hospitals, Mr. Hett is coming home.

In December, while riding four-wheelers with friends, as he had done since he was 5, he made a quick turn on a trail that sent the vehicle and Mr. Hetts rolling. He was left paralyzed from the neck down.

In that instant the life of the 20-year-old Aiken Technical College student was changed.

Mr. Hett spent the next three weeks in Aiken Regional Medical Centers -- including six days in the intensive care unit. Then, he was transferred to Shepherd Center in Atlanta. The specialty hospital houses the country's largest spinal cord injury rehabilitation program -- where film star Christopher Reeve was treated after he was paralyzed in a fall from a horse.

After Mr. Hett's wreck, he went from studying industrial maintenance in college to enduring a rigorous daily schedule of physical and occupational therapy to rebuild muscle strength and flexibility. Daily chores of shaving and eating became new challenges.

"When I got here, I had to use adaptive equipment just to feed myself," Mr. Hett said. "Now, I have control of the entire left side of my body and some control on my right, even in my toes. So I can get around on my own and take care of myself."

Activities such as swimming, weightlifting and wheelchair sports helped increase his mobility and independence.

His mother, Dale Hett, said he has come a long way since the accident.

"He's gotten back a lot of what he had lost," she said. "They've even got him standing up with the help of some equipment."

As for now, Mr. Hett plans to continue his recovery at home and to return to school in the fall.

"I just keep looking on the good side," he said. "It will be good just to get back home."

Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.