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SMHS senior Cole recovers from cliff-jumping injury

“I wanted to be able to say I did it,” said Signal Mountain High School senior Cutler Cole of his decision to do a back flip off the 37-foot cliff in Hixson’s Hidden Harbour neighborhood.

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SMHS senior Lawson Kennamer, left, pulled classmate Cutler Cole from the water after a spinal cord injury left him temporarily paralyzed when he did a back flip off the 37-foot cliff in Hixson’s Hidden Harbour neighborhood. Aside from some lingering pain in his hands, Cole has fully recovered from his spinal injury.

Even more impressive was his ability to recover from the temporary paralysis he experienced after the jump.

Cole said he was underwater a total of just five to eight seconds before his friend, fellow SMHS senior Lawson Kennamer, who jumped from the cliff first, noticed he was sinking and pulled him from the water.

“I didn’t feel anything,” said Cole of the first 15 minutes after he hit the water. “My neck didn’t even hurt.”

A short while later, he said a burning sensation began to set in in his hands and feet.

“I didn’t realize what had happened,” he said of his time in the ambulance as he was rushed to the hospital, where a CAT scan determined his C5 and C6 vertebrae were broken.

Cole spent a week in Erlanger before he was able to walk, and then spent a week at Siskin Hospital for Rehabilitation.

After his accident Cole was very sensitive to running water, so part of his treatment was to hold his hands under a faucet.

“His nerves were just out of whack from his spinal cord injury and the nerve damage, so he had a high sensitivity to water,” said Laura Butler, an assistant occupational therapist who worked with Cole while he was in inpatient treatment at Siskin. “At first he would really withdraw because it was painful.”

“It felt like 10,000 needles poking into my skin,” said Cole.

Butler said they also worked on fine motor skills and strengthening exercises such as squeezing “theraputty” in his hand. Since his accident happened in the summer and Cole was going back to school, they did a lot of typing exercises as well.

“Anything we asked him to do, he was more than willing to try despite the pain,” said Butler. “He was very motivated to get better so he could get home and get back to school, and he had a great support system.”

Cole said it took about four or five months until he stopped noticing the pain in his hands, and they sometimes still hurt, especially when it’s cold. He said his doctor told him he wouldn’t be surprised if they continued to hurt, or if they stopped hurting altogether. Running helps alleviate the pain, said Cole.

“Think twice and know what the consequences are or could be,” he said in advice to others who might be considering taking their own back flip off a cliff.

One positive consequence of Cole’s jump is his decision to become a physical therapist after his experience at Siskin.

“The people were awesome,” he said of his therapists, adding that their patience is what helped him stay motivated during his painful treatment. “The kindness they have and going through that made me want to [be a physical therapist].”

Cole said he will be attending East Tennessee State University in the fall.

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