KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He was dead, technically. Michael Tysver’s skull had become detached from his spine at one point, the way the skull detaches from the head during a hanging.
“It was being held on by like skin and muscle,” said Tysver, one of two Kansas State fans seriously injured by an alleged drunk driver in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale early on Jan. 4, hours after watching the Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl. “It was a pretty miraculous surgery and recovery.”
Doctors took out whole chunks from Tysver’s ribs. Some were used to re-attach the head to the spine. Others helped square away his backbone.
Six days later, he was back on his feet, trying to walk.
Twelve days later, he was back in his native Kansas, moving on his own, tossing a ball around.
“It’s crazy,” Tysver said.
But here’s what’s even crazier: Tysver was the lucky one. Cody Clark, the second Wildcat fan who was hurt when the pedicab in which they were riding was rear-ended by a sedan, remains in critical condition in a Phoenix hospital, 15 hours from home.
Both young men, each 21 years old and natives of Great Bend, Kan., were thrown from the pedicab — a rickshaw pulled by a cycle. Tysver went through the sedan’s windshield. Clark struck his head on the A-bar, or frame, of the windshield.
“He’s opening his eyes more and keeping them open for 10 minutes at a time, instead of just cracking them open and going back to sleep,” Clark’s sister, Ashley Canton, told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “It looks like he’s detecting us … he’s localizing. When you pinch his arms, he can grab it, he can feel it, so that’s good.”
Clark suffered massive brain trauma, to the point doctors had to remove a good chunk of the left side of his skull in order to try and lessen the swelling. Canton said there’s been some brain damage, but the doctors can’t say for certain yet how much.
It could take weeks. It could take months.
“The eyes part was his biggest [improvement] yet,” Canton said. “So we’re happy he’s able to keep them open for a while. We know he’s awake, somewhere, but just not communicating, necessarily.”
Of all the painful levels to the narrative here — the collision, the surgeries, the rehabilitation — the sheer irony may be the most gut-wrenching element of it all.
See, Tysver and Clark weren’t just gravely injured. They were gravely injured trying to do the right thing.
Tysver’s 21st birthday fell on Jan. 4, so he, Clark and a few other friends decided that after the game, win or lose — the Wildcats were carved up by Oregon, 35-17 — they would celebrate with legal drinks at midnight.
They’d toast. To 10 years of friendship. To all those hours working part-time on the rigs. To all the times Tysver watched Clark steal the show in theater productions around Great Bend. Most of all, to Bill Snyder, the football coach who’d rocked their worlds.
After a few rounds, it was agreed: Someone else was going to shuttle them back to their respective hotels. More irony: Tysver’s uncle had been killed by a drunk driver just a few years earlier; he was always wary of putting himself, or anyone else, in that kind of danger.
And yet, that danger soon courted him anyway.
“The pedicab was right outside the bar — that was really just the first one that we saw,” Tysver said. “Obviously, looking back, we wouldn’t have taken the pedicab. But there’s no way you can expect something like that to happen.”
Reports say the pedicab was trying to merge left to make a left-hand turn when it was struck. The sedan, driven by a man identified as Joseph Spano, either didn’t see the cart or didn’t see it until it was too late. Spano, 27, was later arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, endangerment and aggravated assault.
Tysver, for his part, doesn’t recall whether or not the pedicab cart was equipped with seat belts.
“But I don’t think it would have made much difference, (when you’re) getting hit in the back by a car going 60 miles per hour,” Tysver said.
Michael distinctly remembers waving good-bye to one group of friends at their stop, and that only he and Clark were left in the pedicab’s cart. The next thing he recalls is waking up in a hospital, seeing the breathing tubes, and freaking out.
“Yeah, I don’t think it’s fair,” Tysver says. “People have said that to me, too — we were the ones doing the right thing, and we got hurt, and some guy doing the wrong thing is the one that hurt us. It’s not fair. But that’s the way things happen sometimes, I guess, is the only way to put it.”
Angels happen sometimes, too. Television host and former reality show contestant Kinsey Schofield wound up driving along the same, dark Scottsdale road shortly after the accident, and witnessed Tysver and Clark lying motionless in the street.
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Schofield launched a fund-raising website for the pair at www.indiegogo.com, and made a point to visit them in the hospital. She also roped in skateboarder/entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek and his cousin, Chris “Drama” Pfaff.
“‘Drama’ has his own clothing line called ‘Young and Reckless,’” Canton said. “Cody in some of the pictures — in my profile picture — he was wearing some of their shirts, so they contacted me to see if they could send him a package.”
That was just the tip of the iceberg. “Modern Family” star and Wildcat alum Eric Stonestreet went to Twitter on Jan. 8 to solicit donations.
Johnny Kaw’s, the Aggieville bar where Canton worked, held a fundraiser on Jan. 9, raising more than $2,200 to help pay medical and travel costs. Canton said her family has been approached by the K-State football office and that they’ve talked about presenting something to Tysver and Clark once Clark gets back on his feet again.
“It’s really tough, him not being able to do much and move around,” Canton said. “It’s only been a couple of weeks, but we still have a long way to go.”
But the train is moving forward again, in both camps. Canton, a junior at K-State, is in the process of relocating to greater Phoenix in order to be with Clark; she hopes to return to Manhattan full-time in the fall. Tysver, meanwhile, is slated to wear a walking boot for roughly four or five more weeks.
And the ribs?
“It used to hurt every time I coughed,” Michael says. “Now it doesn’t. Even if I cough, it’s not noticeable, either.”