Paralyzed in ATV accident, Minnesota teen works to get driver's license

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The upcoming Memorial Day weekend will mark three years since a Ham Lake teenager's life changed forever.

Daylan West was 13 years old when an ATV accident left him paralyzed from the bottom of his rib cage down. West has overcome plenty of obstacles since that accident, but as he approaches a rite of passage for most teens, he still faces one more.

Even on a sunny spring afternoon, for Daylan West, life is no walk in the park.

“It’s hard. It's a change, a big change," he said. "Emotionally, physically, it’s harder to do things. A lot of your friends you had before go away because you are not in the same position you were in before. It’s hard all around."

These days, he gets around in a wheelchair, but before that, his BMX bike was his passion.

"You could cruise around and do whatever you want - especially how fast you could go. The wind going through your hair…I miss it."

That all changed during a visit to a relative's house in Northome, Minnesota over Memorial Day weekend three years ago when Daylan and his aunt took out a four wheeler for one last ride before he headed home.

He said he swerved to avoid a turtle on the trail and lost control of the ATV, causing it to roll over and throw him from the vehicle.

"I tried to get up. I thought my legs were broken. I didn't understand injuries at that time…I thought I was dying," Daylan said.

After he was airlifted to the hospital, doctors told Daylan's family he severed his spinal cord and wouldn't walk again. They stabilized his damaged vertebrae with titanium rods, and he spent five months in rehab relearning how to do everything he used to take for granted.

"Life just stopped. It felt like everything just halted. It still feels like that sometimes."

After more than a dozen surgeries, Daylan has been getting used to his new normal, but sometimes it feels like he's just spinning his wheels. 

"It’s so hard to know he's depressed every day, to see the friends walking away from him, to know I can't do anything to fix it," said Danielle Thies, his mother.

Since he just turned 16, Daylan wants to get his driver's license so he can become more independent and get a job. But, he needs a vehicle fitted with special hand controls so he can finish driver's ed and take his driver's test.

"I feel like it will be his bike again. Give him that freedom to do whatever he wanted to do because his bike was his car," Thies said.

In the meantime, Daylan is making the most of his situation, regardless of whether he's on two wheels or four. But, whatever life throws at him in the future, he's just grateful to be along for the ride.

"I feel like I got a second chance."

A golf tournament fundraiser for Daylan will be held next month at Oak Marsh Golf Course.
His mother said they want to raise about $20,000-25,000 for both the hand controls and a vehicle for Daylan to put them in.

For more information on the fundraiser, see the attached flyer.