Last October, Wyatt Dennett fell from a third-story balcony during a party and broke his neck. The 21-year-old Santa Barbara High School graduate spent the next two months slipping in and out of consciousness with family and friends huddled by his hospital bedside. When he finally fully awoke, Dennett said, it felt like a dream.
“At first, I could only communicate with my eyes,” he told the Independent through a family representative. “I couldn’t talk on the ventilator until they put in a ‘whisper valve.’ The first time I spoke, my voice scared me.” He was paralyzed from the chest down.
The pain was immense. Dennett tried channeling it into one of the few objects in his field of vision ― the little red light on his room’s smoke detector. The pain came back, and got worse, when he moved to a rehabilitation facility and doctors drained his spinal fluid. “There was no longer a little red light in my room,” he said. It helped when his brother would read him all the cards people sent.
Since then, Dennett’s condition has stabilized. He’s regained some use of his right arm, and he can now feed himself. But the road ahead is steep. Doctors aren’t sure how much mobility he’ll get back, and insurance only covers a fraction of his 24-hour care. His future originally lay in an assisted-living facility for the elderly, but family friends Eileen and Tom Ochsner stepped in to help. They invited him to move into their house. “I feel blessed to be a part of Wyatt’s healing journey,” said Eileen. “It’s made me appreciate life more as I gain inspiration from Wyatt’s positive attitude.”
Dennett hasn’t given up. Far from it. At a fundraising event this week, he’ll talk about what he’s gone through and how his support network has provided him a life worth living. The Ochsners will also talk about why they took Dennett into their home. “Before the accident, I took everything for granted,” Dennett said. “I was a young, healthy dude. I still am. I just can’t move my limbs very well. Yet.”