Three months, two surgeries and nine metal plates later, WSU student Chad Heffelfinger's face looks almost like it did before his 23-foot fall. But it still feels weird to smile.
In September, Chad was airlifted to Spokane after he was found at the bottom of a 23-foot retaining wall on Kamiaken Street. Responding paramedics and police officers said because of the height he fell from and how he landed, they didn’t think he was going to survive.
Doctors said Chad landed almost entirely on the right side of his face. Both Chad’s face and skull sustained multiple fractures, and his injuries looked like he had been in a high-speed crash.
After several days in Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, he was transferred to a hospital in Portland where he underwent a facial reconstruction surgery and metal plates were placed in his face for support while he healed.
“You never know how your family is going to react in a crisis,” said Donna Heimbuch, Chad’s mother. “But as a mom, I was so proud to see how our family banded together.”
Every night he was in the hospital at least one of his siblings stayed with him, Heimbuch said. Chad’s twin, Cody, refused to leave his side for the majority of Chad’s stay in the hospital.
“I am also amazed at how uncomplaining Chad has been through all of this — his attitude has been remarkable,” Heimbuch said.
Since Chad was released from the hospital in late September, he has been recovering at home with his family in Vancouver.
While there are still doctor appointments, CAT scans and possibly another surgery in his future, Chad said he is antsy to get back to WSU. He is majoring in education administration and hopes to become a principal one day.
Chad said the night he fell, he had been drinking. At the hospital, his blood alcohol content was measured at .24 — three times the legal limit for driving.
“This accident has really made me think about my actions with alcohol,” he said. ”I did get off lucky, I really did.”
Chad said he wants the WSU community to learn from his accident and to be safe while partying.
“I’m glad it was me instead of someone else,” he said. “If I have to be the example that other people learn from, then I will be.”
More positive things have come out of the accident than negative ones, Chad said. After the fall, his Facebook wall and phone were bombarded with messages of support from lots of people, some of whom he hadn’t spoken with in years.
“I want to say thank you to everyone who has kept me in their thoughts and prayers,” Chad said. “Thank you to WSU for being so supportive, thank you to Legacy Hospital for starting the healing process and thank you to God for keeping me alive.”
Chad said one of the most difficult things about the accident is the financial impact on his family. He had to drop out of WSU for the semester and he is unsure if he will get his tuition back. Also, it is unclear how much of the medical expenses will be covered by insurance.
His fraternity, Sigma Nu, has dedicated their philanthropy to Chad’s family, said Danny Chau, senior finance major and Sigma Nu treasurer. So far they have raised about $1,500.
“Our goal is to help his family as much as possible and spread awareness of the bad things that can happen when you drink (too much)” Chau said. “But also (we want) to show that you need to stick together if bad things do happen.”
Sigma Nu will be selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts during Dad’s Weekend and pre-selling the doughnuts this week in the CUB to raise money for Chad’s family to help cover his medical expenses.
There are also donation jars in Bob's Corner Market, Pita Pit, Tacos la Diferencia, Munchy’z and Cougar Country Drive In.