A push-up. A pull-up. A jumping jack. To many, doing these exercises may seem simple, but to 18-year-old Terell Jensen, they mean one more breath toward independence.
On Nov. 24, Terell and his family were up near Strawberry Reservoir for their annual trip to get a Christmas tree when the accident happened.
“We were having lunch, and were just about to head out when our three sons, Trevor, Terell and TJ, decided to hook the sled up for a quick run before going home,” Kari Jensen said. “The next thing we knew, Trevor was coming down to get help for Terell, who would soon be life flighted to the Utah Valley Hospital.”
According to Kari Jensen, Terell hit a patch of icy snow and was thrown off the sled into a few smaller aspen trees and landed on a rock. While Terell never hit his head, he did break his C5, T5 and T6 vertebrae. The accident would leave him classified as a C5 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down, which also put a lot of pressure on his lungs and diaphragm. To help him breathe, Terell would require the use of a ventilator and then a trachea breathing tube. This, according to Kari Jensen, has been one of the most challenging aspects of the injury repercussions.
“The use of the ventilator and trachea tube has been to help Terell heal,” Kari Jensen said. “His diaphragm needs to get stronger so he can use it to breathe instead of his neck, which he’s been doing with the trachea tube. Terell has to retrain his brain to breathe normally before the trachea can be removed.”
Rather than removing the tube altogether, Terell has to practice breathing with the use of a cap that is placed over where the tube is inserted. This is done over several hours each day, or as long as Terell is able to handle it, with the goal of being entirely off of it. Kari Jensen says that while it is exciting to watch her son move forward and heal, it is also very scary for him.
“When the tube is removed, it is very scary for Terell because his brain doesn’t remember how to breathe with his diaphragm,” she said. “It is hard for us to watch, so we as a family decided that we would do something to help motivate Terell to push through. And since we are a crazy, active family always doing fitness challenges, we decided to start the trachea challenge.”
The trachea challenge, according to Kari Jensen, is a fitness challenge where people do three exercises for every minute Terell is off the trachea tube.
“You can choose jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, burpees or pull-ups,” she said. “We capped the amount at 1000 so as not to kill anyone. You can do all of the exercises as push ups or mix and match, and you can do them throughout the day, as part of your workout or separately. The other day he only wore it for an hour, so we only had to do 180 exercises. Today he wore it for eight hours. He eventually has to wear it for 48 hours straight — night and day without breaks and no suctioning to have the trachea removed. They have to know his diaphragm, cough and lungs are strong enough to clear mucus and deliver oxygen.”
Kari Jensen said since the challenge began, she has heard of so many people taking it on, and says the response has been humbling. More importantly, she says the challenge has given Terell motivation.
“Terell has had his ups and downs for sure, and it has been so awesome to watch him have something to try for and look forward to,” Kari Jensen said. “When he hears about people doing the exercises for him, it helps him so much knowing others are doing something hard while he is doing something hard.”
In the past several months, Terell could choose to be bitter about his situation, but his mom says he’s chosen to approach things with an attitude of humility and kindness.
“The first song Terell asked to listen to after his accident, was ‘Humble and Kind’ by Tim McGraw, and that is what he has been ever since November 24, 2019,” Kari Jensen said. “He could have chosen to be ticked off at me, everyone and the world, but he is kinder than I ever would be. Don’t get me wrong, he is upset, sad, confused and frustrated, but he is humble and kind, with a great smile.”
It’s during the hard times when they look toward the future, Kari Jensen.
“It is hard not to focus on the trial we are experiencing right now, but we’ve decided that it’s not the trial that you get, but how you handle it from here on out that matters,” she said.”
And for right now, Terell is handling it with the help of friends, family and complete strangers doing one push-up, pull-up and jumping jack at a time, as they all work together toward a happy and healthful future.
To follow Terell’s journey, go to Kari Jensen’s Facebook page or follow Terell on Instagram @terellsmtn.