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Landing on His Feet: Helping Cooper Walk Again

The pads from the bottoms of both of his feet had been basically severed. He had an incision that ran the length of his foot—and two broken bones in each foot. We didn't know if he’d ever walk again.

Photography by Rebecca Whitney

“I was standing at the door when Richie came running towards the house carrying Cooper,” Bridget Simmons recalls.

It was a beautiful August day. Moments before, Richie Simmons and his two young sons, Cooper, 9, and Charlie, 8, were outside doing yard work. Mom, Bridget, was in the kitchen.

“I remember thinking ‘Oh, for Pete’s sake, someone got hurt again’ because the boys are always getting bumps and scrapes. I grabbed paper towels, but Richie was like ‘You need more than that.’ So I grabbed the kitchen towel.” That was when Cooper’s Croc sandal fell off his foot and Bridget saw the extent of his injuries. She says the first thing she thought was “lawnmower.”

But it hadn’t been the lawnmower that shredded Cooper’s foot. Like so many times before, Cooper had jumped on the three-point hitch of a tractor the family had for sale on the front lawn. “Richie had been mowing the lawn, so Charlie had hopped on the front of the tractor so they could move it, and Richie engaged the power take-off to raise the mower back so no one would get hurt. Instead the three-point hitch Cooper was standing on folded into the tractor, pinning his feet inside.”

To stop the flow of blood Bridget grabbed his foot—that’s when the other shoe dropped. Both of his feet had been caught in the machinery. “I grabbed them both and squeezed as hard as I could to try and stop the bleeding. Richie called 911.”

Once the rescue crew arrived and Cooper was being loaded into the ambulance on a stretcher, Bridget says, “He yelled out of the back door ‘Make sure dad knows it’s not his fault.’ Here’s this 9-year-old having just gone through this horrific accident and that’s what he says. We all melted.”

When the Simmons arrived at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, “they actually had to have a whole team look at his feet,” Bridget explains. “They were so thoughtful that instead of doing it individually they did it together, and Cooper only had to go through that once.”

The top of one of Copper’s feet had split completely open, Bridget says. “The pads from the bottoms of both of his feet had been basically severed. He had an incision that ran the length of his foot—and two broken bones in each foot. We didn’t know if he’d ever walk again”

Yet, Bridget recalls feeling like they “basically lucked out when we got to the hospital,” because the orthopaedic surgeon on-call was Karl M. Koenig, MD, MS. “He was incredible with Cooper; the way he treated him was phenomenal. He was straight up with him and didn’t give him false hope, but he didn’t scare him either.” Cooper understood that if he got an infection he might have to lose his feet. Dr. Koenig explained the risks and how to lessen them. “He had to keep his feet clean. And he could put absolutely no pressure on his feet, ever, during recovery. He had to use the wheelchair.”

Cooper had three surgeries, but, Bridget says, “Copper’s biggest concern was if we could teach him to play basketball in his wheelchair.” Cooper spent two months in the wheelchair; then used a walker during four months of physical therapy—which he did five days a week. “For a 9-year-old, that’s forever, but throughout, Coop had a great attitude; and his brother Charlie was wonderful and did everything for him. After four months we cut down to every other day. By then Cooper couldn’t run, but he could definitely walk with just a cane.”

In March—right before baseball season—Cooper started getting around without his cane. “Cooper is a pitcher, so he had to be able to balance on one leg, and he did,” Bridget remembers. In April he pitched the first game of the Little League season. He didn’t stop there: that fall Cooper was not only playing football on the Bradford Youth Bulldogs, but he was named MVP. “He went from August of one year in a wheelchair to the next August as MVP.”

Cooper is now 12 years old. Every year since his run-in with the tractor he has organized a block walk to raise money for CHaD—the place he says “felt like home.” Last year, with the help of about 60 of his friends, teammates, and community members, Cooper raised $2,500. This year there were about 75 people, and he ran the 5k in the CHaD Half (the rest of the family walked). So far he’s raised over $5,000.

The accident left Cooper with flattened arches and minor hips issues because of the misalignment of his ankles. “He wears supports for his arches and we still have regular appointments because the broken bones in his feet were at the growth plate, so as he grows he may need pins or screws in there.” Cooper’s scars, which were pretty vivid early on, are barely noticeable.

Now, when Bridget looks out the kitchen window and sees her boys playing in the yard, it’s hard to imagine everything Cooper experienced. But she knows it hasn’t held him back. Like he did before the accident, Cooper plays basketball, football, and baseball; he’s even run a 5k. “He does it all,” Bridget says.


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