For the past few months, I have been working on a picture story about Isaac Salas. As Isaac practiced a forward roll before a high school wrestling practice on Nov. 17, 2010, he broke his C1 and C2 vertebrae leaving him paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. In the months that followed, Isaac made progress in his recovery eventually regaining limited movement in his arms and legs and the ability to breathe without a ventilator. As he underwent physical therapy and several operations at Craig Hospital south of Denver, Isaac became a celebrity of sorts in Cheyenne. People around the community organized several fundraisers to help Isaac’s family as he recovered. Isaac returned home on Aug. 4. Less than a month later, he died after a procedure to pulverize urinary tract stones blocking his catheter. He was 16.
In my short career, this was the most difficult picture story to photograph. As I got to know him, I was amazed by Isaac’s perseverance and determination despite the physical and emotional adversity he faced on a daily basis after his accident. He would always say “when I walk again” instead of “if I walk again.”
My favorite memory of Salas was on June 3 when I photographed him on a hospital field trip to Bear Creek Lake Park near Denver. As Salas rolled down a beach area near one of the park’s lakes, he teased Jenniy Peltier, his favorite therapist from the hospital, and tried to get her to help him cruise for chicks. Despite his situation, he was in incredibly high spirits. It’s something his mother, Melissa Plumley, called “Isaac being Isaac.” It was inspiring to see and to photograph.