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'Really grateful': Bozeman paraglider recovering in Billings following life-changing accident

Aaron (right) walking with his OT, Josh (left)
Posted at 6:13 PM, Jun 29, 2023

BILLINGS — After a nearly fatal accident, one should expect a long road to recovery. But that's not the case for Aaron Day, who is getting released from a Billings rehabilitation hospital just under two weeks after a near-death experience.

Day is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys a variety of activities. He was born in Seattle but now lives in Bozeman with his girlfriend.

“I like to whitewater kayak, rock and ice climb, paraglide, bow hunt, anything in the mountains,” Day said on Thursday.

Day rock climbing
Day rock climbing

On June 16, he and a friend were paragliding at the College M Trail northeast of Bozeman when disaster struck.

“It was a very mellow evening honestly. It was not great wind, and we were only launching from the lower launch of the two that we have. We were just kind of having a good time and I just got a little bit careless," Day said. "I was just not thinking properly and tried to do a maneuver that I had not done before for some reason, just out of the blue. Just miscalculated my movements."

Day realized his mistake after crashing into the ground and needing medical attention.

“It’s interesting because when I first crashed, like that first initial hit, there was so much going on. And the adrenaline, I didn’t really have pain almost. The pain was sitting in the field waiting for the paramedics. That was the worst," Day said. "And then them flipping me onto the stretcher was probably the worst pain throughout the whole entire event. Going from the ground to the stretcher when the paramedics first grabbed me., that was 10/10 unreal."

Aaron Day
Aaron Day

Day was initially taken to a Bozeman hospital but was then airlifted to St. Vincent Health Care in Billings.

"(In Bozeman, they) did like some MRIs and X-rays. I was there for at least a couple hours and they realized that they didn’t have a spine surgeon there, so they airlifted me out that night to Billings,” Day said. “When it came to the care team, everyone was great. From hospital to paramedics to the hospital staff, nurses, everyone has been fantastic throughout this whole thing."

At St. Vincent, Day underwent two surgeries—one on his leg and one on his back.

“I was scared when I talked to the surgeon before surgery, and he wasn’t for sure that I was going to be able to walk when I came out of the surgery," Day said. "That is what I was scared about."

One of Day's surgeons, Dr. Jeff Rentz, said Day's care team was shocked at what the scans showed.

"We were glad that he had sensation. (This injury) could result in paralysis in some people. So every step of the way, he’s exceeded our expectations,” Rentz said. “When I first examined him, I was impressed by how badly injured his thigh was. I was pleased that all of his nerves and blood vessels appeared to be intact in his legs. When I went and saw the images after the exam, I was surprised at how bad they were. These are very critical injuries."

Dr. Rentz
Dr. Rentz

Rentz said after seeing Day's determination to recover, he's positive about his prognosis.

“He’s done so well at every step along the way, I certainly wouldn’t put any limits on our expectations,” Rentz said.

Day was transferred to The Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana after around a week at St. Vincent. There, he met Josh Cederberg, an occupational therapist.

“Aaron is not your typical spinal cord injury, for sure. A lot of spinal cord injuries come to us and you’re expecting more of like a three, four, six-month prognosis to even get walking, doing stairs. And to see him walking down the hall, doing stairs, being able to balance on one foot and catch a ball is just significant within a week," Cederberg said. "To see him here for a week and going home seven to ten days later is significant."

Josh Cederberg
Josh Cederberg

Cederberg credits Day's speedy recovery to his willingness to get better.

“Aaron has been just fun to work with. He’s one of those people that anything we throw at him, he goes, ‘Okay, let’s try this.'" Cederberg said. “That’s not something very typical of people."

According to Day, he's always been driven in everything he does—and now, that includes recovering from a severe spinal injury.

“The surgeons, without them, I would absolutely not be here. To me, going home soon and recovering quickly, I just tend to be pretty driven at everything I do, and anything that I put my mind to I kind of excel at quickly," Day said. "Whether it’s any of the sports I do, or apparently recovering and going home. My mind’s just set on going home, seeing my girlfriend and my dog, and being in my house."

Day said he's no longer taking his health for granted.

"I just really took everything for granted. Just to get a pair of socks on or brush my teeth or to go to the bathroom, it’s been eye opening for sure," Day said. "Makes me really grateful for the times when I am healthy, and I’m going to be really grateful when I am healthy again."

Aaron working with Josh
Aaron working with Josh

But this accident isn't going to stop him from getting back into the sky.

"It’ll probably slow me down a little bit, but I’ll probably be a little more cautious and kind of ease back into things slowly. But I thought about that a lot when it very first happened. I felt like maybe I shouldn’t (paraglide again), like it was irresponsible to again, you know? Because I put my parents through this and scared people," Day said. "But the more I sat in bed, and the better I got and the harder I fought to get better, the more I realized I was given another chance where I can do it. It almost feels wrong to me to not. It’s probably one of the things in my life that makes me the most happy, and I don’t see why I wouldn’t continue to do that."