October 23, 2013 - What does it take to survive a 40-foot fall from a tree stand?
Theresa Sharpe, Jeremy Shellnut and their children, Lillian, 7, and Kayla, 12, at home. Jeremy was recently released from a nearly 6-week hospital stay after falling 40 feet from a tree stand in Brandon Township. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
Factors may include youth, good basic health, a strong will to live, family support, and luck.
Whatever the answer, Jeremy Shellnut had what it takes, and then some.
The 41-year-old suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs, a fractured pelvis and severe head trauma in a 40-foot fall from a Brandon Township tree on Sept. 6. Six weeks later, on Oct. 15, he sat in a wheelchair, rolling about a room on the eighth floor at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, ready to be discharged.
"I could get up and walk to my house, but I know I'm not supposed to," he says. "I fractured my pelvis."
Teresa Filban, one of Shellnut's nurses, said in four-and-a-half years in her profession, she has seen a lot of patients with head injuries. Their recovery, in her experience, is dependent on age, family involvement, and determination and positive attitude from the patient and his or her family.
"His recovery is miraculous, for sure," she said, then smiling at Shellnut, adds, "Someone is looking out for you."
Shellnut doesn't remember anything about Sept. 6, nor much about the weeks that immediately followed, but they are etched now forever in the memory of Theresa Sharpe, the woman who has loved him for the past 10 years.
Shellnut, a carpenter by trade and 1990 Brandon High School graduate, had a bad habit of not telling Sharpe what he was doing. He went out on a carpentry job on Sept. 6, but when hours passed and he didn't return to their Holly home or answer calls to his cell phone, Sharpe became increasingly worried. She contacted Dan Lewis, a good friend, who suggested perhaps Shellnut had gone to check his tree stand, located on private property near Sashabaw and Granger roads in Brandon.
At around 10:30 p.m., Lewis found Shellnut lying unconscious at the base of a tree, where he had fallen after a rotted strap on his tree stand broke. Brandon emergency personnel responded and rushed Shellnut to McLaren Hospital, where Sharpe was waiting.
"I knew he'd come back because at McLaren, he squeezed my hand," she said, adding that his hands had huge gouges, apparently made by trying to grab on to the tree or stand during his fall. "The whole thing is a miracle."
McLaren sent Shellnut by ambulance to Beaumont Hospital, where he remained in the intensive care unit for three weeks. Sharpe recalls that for the first two weeks, he didn't move at all.
He was then moved to the rehabilitation unit, where Filban works. When he arrived, he couldn't talk, eat or walk. He had a breathing tube and a feeding tube. Shellnut yanked out his own tracheotomy tube because, he says, it was torture and he couldn't breathe.
His progress came in leaps and bounds.
"He started whispering at night and one night, he said, 'I love you,' and those were the things that kept me going," said Sharpe, beginning to sob. "The first time the speech therapist got him to talk—I had just missed his voice so much—I was bawling."
She pauses, overcome with emotion, and Shellnut says, "I owe Theresa my life. Nothing compares to what she has done for me."
He talks about having a new perspective, especially when it comes to fatherhood, and how he misses his children, Kayla, 12, and Lillian, 7.
"They're gonna be like, 'I can't believe you're here,' and I can't believe it, either. I'm so lucky to be alive. I'm glad I'm still here for them. It gives a whole new perspective… Stuff that was important before doesn't matter anymore."
He is excited to go home, to check on his house and make sure it's in order, and to see his family and friends and pets. He wants to get back to work and he even wants to get back to hunting, too.
"How about just ground stands?" ask Sharpe.
"Maybe I'll just stick to fishing, it's a lot safer," laughs Shellnut. "You get caught with a hook once in a while, but it's better than falling 40 feet."
"Bucks for Jeremy," a benefit to help Jeremy Shellnut and his family with medical bills and other expenses during his recovery, is planned for 5 p.m.-midnight, Saturday, Nov. 9, at Bullfrogs, 2225 S. Ortonville Road.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville