ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Watching 14-year-old Sam Bell toss his lasso, it’s almost as if his accident never happened. In the courtyard of Gillette Children’s hospital, the young rodeo cowboy displays his quick hands and steady aim.
But on Sept. 3 the three-time high school bull riding champion nearly died. Bell was tossed violently to the ground by a 1,600 pound bull.
“I don’t remember a thing about my injury or anything like that,” Bell said from his hospital room Thursday.
Perhaps he can’t remember because the accident left him in a coma for a week. He had a severe brain injury, broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Bell spent the first twelve days after the accident at North Memorial’s intensive care unit.
“What I remember is that I was in a hospital because I had been in a bad bull riding accident and got a concussion and contusions in the brain, that’s how I ended up here,” said Bell.
His mother, Avis Estabrooks, shudders at the thought of the Labor Day weekend accident in their hometown of Nimrod. She recalled the on the way to the hospital thinking her son wasn’t going to make it. While in the ambulance, paramedics lost his pulse and had to begin cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
“After what I went through in the ambulance I was OK when he was in the ICU, because I knew it was a process,” said Estabrooks.
On Sept. 15, Bell was transferred to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul to begin that process of physical therapy. His steady progress has surprised even Sam’s doctors and nurses.
“Sam’s made a very good recovery,” said Dr. Mark Gormley.
So much so that on Friday, Dr. Gormley will clear Bell to go home. Still, he cautions that traumatic brain injuries take months to heal. He said Bell’s determination and hard work are paying off.
“The brain is healing and improving quite considerably. Still, there’s some minor issues going on but over the next several months those should continue to improve,” Gormley said.
First, Bell will gather up the cards and well wishes that have accumulated in his room over the past nearly six weeks. He picked up a handmade quilt bearing the scribbling of friends and fellow rodeo competitors.
“There’s lots of signatures and friends on there who signed it,” he said.
Bell and his mom said they can’t thank the doctors and nurses of both hospitals enough for the wonderful care he’s received.
As for the thought of riding another bull, that’s a discussion for another day well down the road. For now, it’s enough to pick up the lasso and toss it around the courtyard.
Bell knows he’s lucky to be alive and able to pull up his boots and walk out of the hospital.
“Yes, very lucky,” Bell said.