CARLSBAD — He is fortunate to be alive.
He’s fortunate to be walking again. And he’s fortunate a fellow body boarder, Jordan Fisher, 20, of Vista quickly spotted him face down in the water and turned him over.
Those are the sentiments of lifeguard Alex Shaner, 26, who shattered his C-4, 5 and 6 vertebrae during an Aug. 22 bodysurfing accident at Carlsbad State Beach off Beech Street.
And if it wasn’t for a quick-thinking firefighter performing a jaw thrust, Shaner, who worked for the California State Lifeguards and was training with the Carlsbad Fire Department, might be dead.
“I am just happy to be alive,” Shaner said in a phone interview from his rehabilitation facility in Denver. “I hit the sandbar sideways. I came back to and I was face down in the water. At first I thought it was a concussion. I did a quick analysis and I was like, ‘I broke my neck.’ I just tried to conserve oxygen and slow my heart rate down.”
Carlsbad firefighter and Shaner’s friend Kyle Lloyd said one key to saving Shaner’s life was the city’s decision to staff that portion of the beach, which had gone years without coverage.
He said almost no one saw the accident because of the evening glare from the sun off the water. If it weren’t for Fisher, Shaner would have drowned, Lloyd said.
“There were three Carlsbad firefighters/paramedics and one guy who was retired that responded. They stabilized his neck … and he was flown to Scripps La Jolla,” Lloyd said.
The surgery fused the vertebrae, Lloyd said, and then Shaner was off to Colorado to begin his three-month stay. His determination is the reason Shaner is walking.
“When I went unconscious for the second time, that should have been it,” Shaner said. “When I came back to on the beach … I was just stoked to be alive.”
But now, he is thriving at the Neurological Recovery Network in Denver, and walking and using his arms again after doctors diagnosed him with paralysis from the chest down. Last week, Shaner walked 400 feet at his rehabilitation facility. In fact, after his arrival on Aug. 31, Shaner was able to move his thumb and big toe and flex his thigh muscle.
He will spend a couple more days in Denver before returning to his parents’ home in Sacramento, then return to Denver for three months of outpatient rehabilitation. He said it felt good to walk on his own, but felt he could have done better. Nevertheless, he is progressing at an impressive rate.
“My goal is to get back to lifeguarding or working EMS,” he said of his motivation. “I’ve always been a competitive person. I kind of had firsthand experience of what it was like and what to expect.”
In the past week, the Pint Project, along with CFD, held a pair of fundraisers for Shaner at both Pizza Port locations in Carlsbad. They also set up a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $22,000 to help cover his medical expenses.
The Pint Project is a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds for individuals related to the fire service and other first responders who have been struck by tragedy, like Shaner, according to founder and Rancho Santa Fe firefighter Chris Danner. In the three years since Pint Project’s inception, the nonprofit has raised more than $300,000.
The concept is to develop a beer and hold a fundraiser. Since many of Shaner’s friends are under the legal drinking age of 21, Danner opted to do pizza and beer event so more people could attend. Twenty percent of the proceeds from each pizza and pint of the Double Layback Shaka IPA created by Danner and Pizza Port head brewer Mike Aubuchon were donated to Shaner.
“I have a background in brewing so we came up with this recipe,” Danner said. “That (double layback shaka) is Alex’s favorite surf move. We’ve already raised $12,000 for him and this is just the topping on the cake. It’s more than money and support. We want him to know we’re here for him and to thrive.”
To donate to Shaner’s recovery, visit https://www.gofundme.com/Alex-Shaner.
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.