What were once acts performed with mere muscle memory — walking, eating, holding a Styrofoam smoothie cup — are now hurdles for Senior Deputy Dan McSkimming. Even smiling, said his wife, Staci, has presented a learning curve. “The muscles to smile — it takes so many muscles to smile,” she said. “Before, I couldn’t talk to him — that was the hardest part. It’s definitely better now. It’s not perfect now, but it’s better.”
Last August, McSkimming, 43, was on patrol in Carpinteria when he twisted his neck. Still sore the next day, he went to the chiropractor, who told him to take some over-the-counter painkillers, rest, and return the following day for an adjustment. What McSkimming didn’t know, and what the chiropractor didn’t check for, was that a blood clot had formed in his neck. The adjustment that he returned for, instead of healing McSkimming, freed that blood clot and shot it up into his brain, instantly causing a stroke.
Staci recalled receiving a phone call from a friend who worked next door to the chiropractor’s office, telling her that her husband had gone unconscious. From the Oxnard chiropractor’s office, McSkimming was airlifted to Cottage Hospital, placed in an induced coma for two weeks, and fed through a feeding tube. A neurosurgeon would later tell Staci that her husband’s neck and blood clot would have healed within six days without the chiropractic work.
In the six months since, McSkimming has made tremendous strides, moving from the intensive care unit to a rehab center, and now — in what his family hopes is the last step before home — to an inpatient facility with all the potentially hazardous fixings of a house, like rugs and sharp edges.
Staci — who has commuted from their Ventura County home to visit Dan every day, often with their kids, Alexa, 8, and Logan, 12 — said she will pursue legal action against the chiropractor. She alleges that he could have and should have checked her husband’s neck before adjusting it. A month after it happened, Staci said, the chiropractor gave her his malpractice paperwork and asked her to sue him.
Also at issue is the family’s mounting medical bills, as a worker’s comp company has denied McSkimming’s claim, to the frustration of family and colleagues. To help out, McSkimming’s colleagues are holding a barbecue fundraiser on Saturday, where guests can pay $10 at the door and enter raffles for prizes. An online fundraising page through GoFundMe has also raised more than $58,000, including donations from total strangers. “You feel silly saying thank you over and over,” Staci said. “You want to say so much more.”
In his 16 years working for the Sheriff’s Office, McSkimming has worked patrol, forensics, the gang unit, and the Isla Vista Foot Patrol. In 2009, he was a chief member of the security squad during the Jesse James Hollywood trial. Most recently, he has served on the SWAT team and was one of that group who conducted the sweep of the apartment where Isla Vista killer Elliot Rodger lived, following last year’s massacre.
Fellow SWAT team member Detective Steve Gonzales has known McSkimming for 16 years and has been one of the many friends who have visited him in the hospital. They encouraged him to come to a Christmas party, where he got to sip a beer. They have cut his hair and brought him lunch and dinner and pushed him like only guy friends can, Staci said.
For instance, Gonzales said, he brought his friend a sandwich recently but didn’t help him eat it, knowing that he’s going to need to be able to eat on his own. But it’s been tough to watch his “strong” buddy go through this, he said. “You can tell that he’s frustrated. He’s trying harder and harder every day.”
“He’s working his butt off is what he’s doing,” said Senior Deputy Doug Jones, McSkimming’s SWAT team partner. Watching his friend suffer and recover from this freak incident has been trying, Jones said, but it has taught him and others to not take ordinary things for granted. Jones recalled the period of time following the stroke when McSkimming couldn’t even speak. But he remembered more when he was finally able to again.
“I’m so used to hearing his voice. Not hearing it since August has been tough,” Jones said. “I was saying good-bye to him, and he said, ‘I love you buddy.’ It wasn’t his typical voice — he’s still working on his speech. But it was Dan.”
The Fundraiser for Senior Deputy Dan McSkimming takes place Saturday, February 21, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., at the Goleta Elks Lodge, 150 North Kellogg Avenue. Tickets cost $10 at the door.