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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Remembering Isaac Salas

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.

Lester Butt, Isaac Salas' psychologist, leans in to chat with Isaac after a round of physical therapy as Isaac's mother, Melissa Plumley, watches from a chair near the window in his room on Thursday, April 28, 2011, at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. Isaac was hospitalized from November 2010 until August 2011 as he recovered from a break of his C1 and C2 vertebrae in a Cheyenne South High School wrestling practice. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Lester Butt, Isaac Salas' psychologist, leans in to chat with Isaac after a round of physical therapy as Isaac's mother, Melissa Plumley, watches from a chair near the window in his room on Thursday, April 28, 2011, at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. Isaac was hospitalized from November 2010 until August 2011 as he recovered from a break of his C1 and C2 vertebrae in a Cheyenne South High School wrestling practice. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas waits to be helped inside of his family's home as his mother, Melissa Plumley, background, talks with friends and family during a welcome home gathering on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in north Cheyenne. It was the first time Isaac had returned home since the accident in wrestling practice on Nov. 17, 2010. After his injury, his family was forced to buy a wheelchair-friendly home for Isaac, who continued to be wheelchair-bound throughout his recovery until his death on Sept 3. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Brea Galvin, a physical therapy aide, center, leans in to show Isaac Salas photos off her digital camera after a session on Friday, May 6, 2011, at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. Isaac was well known around the hospital and he often joked with nurses and physical therapists he interacted with everyday for the duration of his stay at Craig Hospital. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Brea Galvin, a physical therapy aide, center, leans in to show Isaac Salas photos off her digital camera after a session on Friday, May 6, 2011, at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. Isaac was well known around the hospital and he often joked with nurses and physical therapists he interacted with everyday for the duration of his stay at Craig Hospital. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

On the ceiling above his bed in room 311 at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., Isaac Salas had 43 photos, as seen on Friday, June 3, 2011. They were of him acting cool, wearing sunglasses or with a goofy look on his face. The pictures included friends and the workers at Craig. Most of the shots included girls. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

On the ceiling above his bed in room 311 at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., Isaac Salas had 43 photos, as seen on Friday, June 3, 2011. They were of him acting cool, wearing sunglasses or with a goofy look on his face. The pictures included friends and the workers at Craig. Most of the shots included girls. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Melissa Plumley shares a laugh with her son, Isaac Salas on Friday, May 6, 2011, at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. After his injury and eventual move to Craig Hospital, Melissa rented an apartment on the east side of the hospital, spending time with Isaac as he went about his recovery and physical therapy. She typically making trips back to Cheyenne once a week on Fridays. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Melissa Plumley shares a laugh with her son, Isaac Salas on Friday, May 6, 2011, at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. After his injury and eventual move to Craig Hospital, Melissa rented an apartment on the east side of the hospital, spending time with Isaac as he went about his recovery and physical therapy. She typically making trips back to Cheyenne once a week on Fridays. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Mary Ratigan, a tutor at Craig Hospital, reacts as he talks about mathematical graphs with Isaac Salas on Friday, May 6, 2011, at the hospital in Englewood, Colo. Isaac acted like he was tired to get out of the tutoring session early. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Mary Ratigan, a tutor at Craig Hospital, reacts as he talks about mathematical graphs with Isaac Salas on Friday, May 6, 2011, at the hospital in Englewood, Colo. Isaac acted like he was tired to get out of the tutoring session early. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas shows a bit of frustration as he talks with a nurse at a nurse's station after returning to Craig Hospital from a field trip to a nearby state park in Englewood, Colo. Isaac enjoyed the trip to Bear Creek Lake Park, but longed to return home to Cheyenne to see his family and friends. A few seconds later, tears flooded Isaac's dark brown eyes, tears he couldn't wipe on his own. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas shows a bit of frustration as he talks with a nurse at a nurse's station after returning to Craig Hospital from a field trip to a nearby state park in Englewood, Colo. Isaac enjoyed the trip to Bear Creek Lake Park, but longed to return home to Cheyenne to see his family and friends. A few seconds later, tears flooded Isaac's dark brown eyes, tears he couldn't wipe on his own. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

A bag of urine hangs on Isaac Salas' leg after his return home on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in Cheyenne. Isaac remained on a catheter following his release from Craig Hospital. He died Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, due to complications following a procedure to pulverize urinary tract stones that were blocking his catheter. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

A bag of urine hangs on Isaac Salas' leg after his return home on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in Cheyenne. Isaac remained on a catheter following his release from Craig Hospital. He died Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, due to complications following a procedure to pulverize urinary tract stones that were blocking his catheter. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas takes a moment to himself as his family decorates a park shelter in anticipation of a birthday party for his younger brother, Isaac Plumley on Saturday, July 9, 2011, at Holliday Park in Cheyenne. The visit was the first time Isaac had returned to Cheyenne since his accident in November 2010. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas takes a moment to himself as his family decorates a park shelter in anticipation of a birthday party for his younger brother, Isaac Plumley on Saturday, July 9, 2011, at Holliday Park in Cheyenne. The visit was the first time Isaac had returned to Cheyenne since his accident in November 2010. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Melissa Plumley leans up against a speaker as she watches her son, Isaac Salas, after bringing him to the family's new home for the first time on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in Cheyenne. The day marked a new chapter for the family as they moved their wheelchair-bound son into a new house, still filled with unpacked boxes from the move. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Melissa Plumley leans up against a speaker as she watches her son, Isaac Salas, after bringing him to the family's new home for the first time on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in Cheyenne. The day marked a new chapter for the family as they moved their wheelchair-bound son into a new house, still filled with unpacked boxes from the move. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Maria Baca takes a quick snapshot of Isaac Salas as Salas rolls into a welcome home party on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011, at Cheyenne South High School. Maria, who did not know Isaac or his family before his injury, became a quick friend of the family after she organized several charity events to raise money for his recovery. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Maria Baca takes a quick snapshot of Isaac Salas as Salas rolls into a welcome home party on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011, at Cheyenne South High School. Maria, who did not know Isaac or his family before his injury, became a quick friend of the family after she organized several charity events to raise money for his recovery. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas, center, mingles with friends and family during a welcome home party held in his honor on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011, at Cheyenne South High School. It was the first time Isaac had been back to the school since his wrestling accident. "I can't believe that many people care," Isaac said a few hours before his release from the hospital on Aug. 4. "It feels weird that people view me as an inspiration. I wish it didn't happen, but I'm going to make the best of it." (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas, center, mingles with friends and family during a welcome home party held in his honor on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011, at Cheyenne South High School. It was the first time Isaac had been back to the school since his wrestling accident. "I can't believe that many people care," Isaac said a few hours before his release from the hospital on Aug. 4. "It feels weird that people view me as an inspiration. I wish it didn't happen, but I'm going to make the best of it." (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas looks up as he talks with Jenniy Peltier, one of his favorite therapists from Craig Hospital, during a hospital field trip to Bear Creek Lake Park on Friday, June 3, 2011, near Lakewood, Colo. Earlier in the day, Isaac, 16, cruised a nearby beach with Jenniy pretending to talk to bikini-clad girls. "You can look, Isaac. But keep moving. There's something creepy about a guy walking around looking at girls," Jenniy said. "Good for them I'm rolling," Isaac quipped. His joking nature was something his mother, Melisaa Plumley, described as "Isaac being Isaac," an aspect of his personality that continued to ring true after his accident. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas looks up as he talks with Jenniy Peltier, one of his favorite therapists from Craig Hospital, during a hospital field trip to Bear Creek Lake Park on Friday, June 3, 2011, near Lakewood, Colo. Earlier in the day, Isaac, 16, cruised a nearby beach with Jenniy pretending to talk to bikini-clad girls. "You can look, Isaac. But keep moving. There's something creepy about a guy walking around looking at girls," Jenniy said. "Good for them I'm rolling," Isaac quipped. His joking nature was something his mother, Melisaa Plumley, described as "Isaac being Isaac," an aspect of his personality that continued to ring true after his accident. (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

The body of Isaac Salas is wheeled out of St. Mary's Cathedral after funeral services on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, in Cheyenne. Melissa Plumley, Isaac's mother, read a poem she had written about his experience following the accident. "I don't know how I'm standing here, except for Isaac holding me up right now," Melissa told the attendees. "I know I have to be as strong as he was." (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

The body of Isaac Salas is wheeled out of St. Mary's Cathedral after funeral services on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, in Cheyenne. Melissa Plumley, Isaac's mother, read a poem she had written about his experience following the accident. "I don't know how I'm standing here, except for Isaac holding me up right now," Melissa told the attendees. "I know I have to be as strong as he was." (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas' motorized wheelchair sits in the corner of his family's dining room as the family prepares a Thanksgiving meal in the nearby kitchen on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011, in Cheyenne. The chair highlights Isaac's tale: His family wants to remember, but also needs to move on. "I try to keep myself busy so I don't think about it. The night is always the toughest," Melissa Plumley, Isaac's mother said. "I don't know if that's right or healthy, but it feels right to me." (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Isaac Salas' motorized wheelchair sits in the corner of his family's dining room as the family prepares a Thanksgiving meal in the nearby kitchen on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011, in Cheyenne. The chair highlights Isaac's tale: His family wants to remember, but also needs to move on. "I try to keep myself busy so I don't think about it. The night is always the toughest," Melissa Plumley, Isaac's mother said. "I don't know if that's right or healthy, but it feels right to me." (James Brosher/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

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One comment on “Remembering Isaac Salas”

  1. Marcus says:

    powerful images James.

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