I am thankful

Families touched by tragedy view Thanksgiving in a special way

Written by Sara Garrison | Photography by Visual Fusion Photographics and provided by family members

Thanksgiving is a time to honor what in life we are most thankful for. The King and Vance families share their stories and how prayers, hope, love and survival make them even more grateful this Thanksgiving.

Dane King

The morning of June 11, 2016, started like a typical summer day at Table Rock Lake. Dane King and three of his friends were visiting Dane's parents, Goddard residents Ron and Donna King, at their Table Rock Lake house. The King family has visited Table Rock for more than 30 years where they also co-own the Eagle Rock Marina.

On this fateful Saturday morning, the 21-year-old University of Kansas student left early with his friends to go wakeboarding.

Around 9 a.m., Dane fell wakeboarding. He came up and yelled for another life jacket. The wakeboarding vest Dane was wearing was not designed to keep him afloat if he was unconscious. In seconds, Dane lost consciousness and sank into the 60-foot deep water below.

Witnessing Dane's distress, his friend Eric jumpedin the water to save Dane. Eric did not have his life jacket on, and he struggled to rescue Dane, who was unconscious and not breathing. Their friend Sarah jumped in to help and the pair brought Dane back to the boat. Meanwhile, a passenger on a nearby boat heard the distress calls and dived in to help. This man single handedly lifted the 6-foot, 180 pound Dane into the boat.

Dane's friend Vanessa called 911 as the friends performed CPR on Dane. The GoPro camera Dane was wearing recorded that over seven minutes had passed from the time Dane went underwater until the boat left for the marina.

After receiving a phone call about the accident, Donna and Ron rushed to the marina to see their son.

Coincidentally that morning, the Eagle Rock Volunteer Fire Department had just finished a fundraising breakfast when the 911 call came in. Because of this event, the fire department was waiting on the dock as the boat arrived. The paramedics immediately moved Dane's lifeless body from the boat and worked to revive him.

Dane was unresponsive for over eight minutes as the four paramedics worked. The paramedics used the defibrillator three times during this effort, with no response. Donna sat rubbing her son's feet, praying for his recovery and pleading with the paramedics to continue efforts to revive Dane.

"I prayed to God that he would give Dane back," says Donna. "All of a sudden he (Dane) coughed and started breathing. For so long he was gone and God gave him back to us."

Dane was transported via medical helicopter to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri where it was discovered that he had brain swelling. In the ICU, Dane was placed in a medically induced coma in a hypothermic state for 24 hours to reduce the swelling in his brain.

Individuals from across the nation heard of Dane's accident via social media and began praying for Dane. His three sisters, Halee, Jordan and Katlin, numerous family and friends along with more than 20 of Dane's Goddard High School friends gathered at the hospital in support of the King family.

Dane spent six days in the hospital recovering, and he has had no long-term effects from the accident. He will graduate from KU with a finance degree in May.

Today, the King family views the accident as a true testimony of faith and God's blessings. The family also emphasizes the importance of learning CPR and having a proper life jacket while participating in water activities.

"I'm most thankful for the opportunity to continue experiencing the good and bad parts of life, knowing that the bad only lasts so long and the good makes it all worth it," says Dane. "Also, to have the opportunity to spread the Lord's strength and mercifulness by sharing our experience is quite an honor."

"When you have the opportunity to witness a miracle and see God's grace, it is so incredible," says Donna. "The outcome could have been so different. I thank God every day for Dane and his recovery."

Hunter Vance

Twenty-one-year-old Hunter Vance spent the summer working as an intern for Congressman Mike Pompeo. The business major and Kansas State University senior finished his internship in early August, but on Saturday, Aug. 6, his life changed forever.

That night, Hunter attended a pool party where later that evening he ended up in the pool fighting for his life. A friend noticed Hunter struggling, so he rushed to rescue him from the water.

The accident broke Hunter's neck bursting his number six vertebrae and compressing his number seven vertebrae leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Hunter underwent surgery at Wesley Medical Center and was then transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska where he underwent rehabilitation therapy until late October.

"We are so thankful Hunter is alive. We are so proud of our son," says Margaret Vance, Hunter's mother. "Throughout this experience he has always had such a positive outlook and is inspiring to others."

"I feel like if I stay positive, everyone around me will stay positive," explains Hunter. "It is better to keep your spirits up while you are working hard. I am willing to do what I can to get my mobility back. Working so hard each day brings me one step closer."

Hunter currently has the use of four fingers and is working tirelessly every day to gain more mobility.

"As a parent you are crushed to see your child struggle, but he is constantly happy and he tries so hard," says Margaret. "He is so inspirational and so determined, just to get better. Although the rehabilitation places him in excruciating pain, he never complains."

Hunter has such an exceptional outlook on his rehabilitation and his future. Throughout the experience he still has the same personality and sense of humor as before the accident. His dedication has inspired the staff and patients at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. Hunter spends some of his spare time speaking to other patients to lift their spirits.

In the future, Hunter hopes to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries.

"People sometimes overlook spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injuries are a big deal," says Hunter. "I would like to encourage anyone recovering from an injury to try to have a positive outlook. It is so hard to stay positive all of the time, and it is ok to cry and get frustrated. But, you need start every day like you want to finish it the right way."

In November, Hunter and his parents Margaret and Gregg will travel to Panama City to participate in a clinical trial.

"We are very hopeful that he will walk one day. He tells me that it will be soon" says Margaret. "We are very proud of him. When we get through this, regardless of the outcome, we know everything is going to be alright."

Throughout this process the Vance family has witnessed the power of prayer. They have also become more aware of how the public treats individuals with disabilities.

"People are oblivious to individuals in wheelchairs," she says. "It is important to always be courteous and understanding and treat others with dignity and respect."

This Thanksgiving, the Vance family has a lot to be thankful for.

"Thanksgiving is such a big holiday for our family," says Margaret. "Moving forward, we will always appreciate everything in life."

"This Thanksgiving I am so grateful that I am still here and still alive," says Hunter. "I have a wonderful family that supports me 100 percent. It is hard to not be thankful when you have so much support."

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