On April 16, in San Diego, after a day of surfing, the world of 21-year-old Navarre native Elis Hines was flipped upside down.
Hines and his girlfriend, Hailey Carson, who met while exploring and adventuring together along the western United States, were enjoying a day surfing on the San Diego beach and decided to head home. When Hines spotted a huge hill, he wanted to ride down it on his skateboard, which he had done on many other hills before. As he gained speed down the slope, he began to lose control of his board and crashed suddenly on the concrete.
Carson rushed over to him thinking he had just gotten a little scraped up.
“I remember I had gotten down to the bottom of the hill a couple feet away from him and a lady goes, ‘Do you know this guy?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, he’s my boyfriend. I’m sure he’s alright,’” Carson said. “And then I looked at his face and I knew in that moment that it was not alright at all.”
She called the ambulance as she held her boyfriend’s hand and told him that everything was going to be OK.
“He kept telling me, ‘I can’t feel my feet babe, I can’t feel my feet!” she said.
The ambulance finally arrived, they cut off his blood covered clothes and handed them to Carson. The ambulance would not allow her to ride with him to the hospital because of COVID-19 precautions.
Carson called Hines’s mother Ixcheal Cook and told her the news. At first Cook thought Carson was exaggerating the severity of the situation.
“I don’t know. I just really wasn’t worried at first when Hailey called me. I actually thought she was being an overactive young girl, and I was like, ‘No, Elis is going to be fine,’” Cook said.
When Carson called the second time, she said the test results were back, and they thought his back was broken.
“That’s when I started getting really, really worried,” Cook said.
Cook and her husband Chris got the call at 7 p.m., and they left at 10 p.m., driving 30 straight hours to California, crying nonstop. They only stopped for an hour to try and get some rest.
The doctor said Hines’s legs must have gone over his head backwards. His 12th thoracic vertebra was completely crushed and his spinal cord was severed. The surgeon said there was no way he would ever walk again.
“And our whole world completely fell apart,” his mother wept. “Here’s this boy who completely enjoys life to the fullest, the most loving, the most giving. He’s not one of these kids who likes to play video games and be stuck indoors. That is what we hated the most. And he has been told that he is going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.”
Hines is not losing hope. He keeps it positive.
“There’s pain, but if there wasn’t, I wouldn’t be progressing…I’m happy to be alive and see another day,” Hines said. “Spiritually, I know angels are surrounding me and helping.”
He keeps telling Carson he is going to walk again. He said he believes in miracles.
“I really encourage people, don’t talk to him like he is paralyzed for a lifetime, because that’s what the doctors are telling us, but Elis is believing in miracles and so are we,” Carson said.
Hines has not let any of this affect his high spirits and his joyful attitude toward life.
“He even told me, ‘Babe, this year for Halloween I can be Lieutenant Dan and you can be Forest Gump!’” she said.
Hines has always loved being active. He swam on the varsity swim team at Navarre High School and played soccer while growing up. After graduating in 2016, Hines was a Pensacola lifeguard for two years.
But this year he decided it was time to take the adventure he had been planning for years, a cross country camping road trip. In January, he left for his trip with a group of friends.
“He is just not an indoor person at all, even from a little boy. He’s been surfing since he was eight years old,” his mother explained. “As a kid, he would ride his bicycle or skateboard with his surfboard all the way down to Navarre Beach, five miles. That’s how dedicated he was. He just loves to be outdoors and enjoy what this Earth has to offer.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions at the hospital, visitation has been extremely limited to once a week for half an hour. So, Hines’s family and girlfriend have only been able to visit him three times since the accident. The nurses have been gracious in extending the 30-minute time period to a few hours on some days.
Hines said he is thankful that his family and girlfriend have been able to stay in California to support him.
“They are the reason I’ve pushed so hard and gotten to where I am so far,” he said. “Not being able to see them every day or having limited time with them is lame.”
They’ve been staying with friends Andy Selby and Deb Wright who have opened their home in a suburb of San Diego.
The night Hines got to the hospital, he had intensive back surgery. Cook said the surgeon did an incredible job on Hines’s back, intricately placing plates and screws to help align his back, held together with 64 staples. The surgeon even told his mother, “I put that vertebrae back together like a jigsaw puzzle.”
Hines still has a long road to recovery ahead of him. He’s learning how to maneuver his back all over again. On May 8, he was transferred to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California, near Los Angeles.
“We’re hoping to get him strong enough for the journey back home to Florida,” Cook said.
Even from a wheelchair, Hines is still seeking adventure. On the road trip back home, Hines has requested that he and his family stop at the Grand Canyon.
The plan is to get Hines into Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a rehab that specializes in spinal cord injuries, to get him the best treatment possible.
Cook’s parents financed reconstruction in their house in Navarre, adapting the home to make everything wheelchair friendly.
A good friend of Hines from Navarre made a video explaining what happened to him and asking for financial help and prayers with a link to his GoFundMe webpage. As of May 11, a little over $30,000 has been raised to offset medical bills and the cost of rehab. Donations to Hines can be made at www.gf.me/u/xxs675.
“Prayers are the one thing that I feel have helped Elis and our entire family already,” Cook said.
People from all over the world have been hearing Hines’s story and resonating with it. They have been posting pictures online of adventurous Hines or themselves outdoors with the caption “Go outside and #LiveLikeElis.”
Hines is already looking into ways he can start surfing again, watching videos and researching the world of paraplegics.
“If anyone is going to get through this, it’s Elis,” Carson said. “He’s going to inspire the world.”