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Paralyzed Illinois hunter returns, bags deer

December 27, 2010 at 02:24 AM

Rockford Register Star

BAILEYVILLE, Ill. - Kevin Henze harvested a deer last month while bow hunting.

It may not seem like big news for a lifelong hunter, but it is for a man who a year ago thought his hunting days were over - forever. Henze fell 14 feet from his hunting tree stand in 2009 and landed on a downed tree.

“That killed my back,” Henze, 49, said.

Doctors removed one of his vertebrae and fused four others together, leaving him a paraplegic. But during the next 53 days in a hospital, his thoughts still would occasionally turn to deer hunting.

“I wanted to go back hunting but I didn’t know if I was going to be able
to do it,” he recalled.

With the help of friends, family and a bow manufacturer, Henze returned to the sport this season and killed a six-point buck as a reward for his dedication and hard work.

Henze was bow hunting alone on Oct. 17, 2009, in Stephenson County. His cell phone was dead and sat in his truck 500 yards away. He was climbing down from his stand about 4:30 p.m. when his foot slipped and he came tumbling onto the fallen tree.

“I knew I was paralyzed as soon as I shook it off,” he said.

When Henze didn’t return home after dark, his concerned wife went looking for him. She knew the places where he hunted, but he didn’t tell her which one he was using that day.

“He always called me when he got out of the stand,” said his wife, Melissa. “When he didn’t call and didn’t answer his phone, I knew right away something was wrong.”

She checked three of his hunting sites before finding the right location.

“It was tough walking out there and wondering what you would find,” she said. “The sweetest sound was to hear his voice calling back to me.”

After the surgery, Henze began a difficult period of rehabilitation, adjusting to his new life in a wheelchair.

“Just learning how to sit was a milestone,” said Henze, who continues to go to rehab today to work on balance and muscle tone. His friends and family organized a fundraising dinner for him on Feb. 20 at the Rock Hollow Conservation Club in Freeport. There he “joked around” about hunting again with his buddies.

The joke moved closer to reality when his friends bought him a top-of-the-line BowTech StrykeForce crossbow. One of his friends works for a company that supplies parts for BowTech, so they were able to purchase it at factory price, roughly half of retail.

Henze has had a bow in his hands nearly his entire life as his father owned an archery shop. However, his body wasn’t ready yet to handle a bow so soon after the accident.

“At first I wasn’t even able to hold it up,” he said with a chuckle. “When I picked it up, I would fall over because I didn’t have the strength in my bottom torso.

“I couldn’t hold myself up and the bow at the same time. ... I was kind of like a Weeble.”

But Henze and his friends didn’t give up. They worked out a system where a friend would hold him while Henze held the bow. Henze eventually built up his strength to the point he could handle the bow without help. He practiced the entire summer and was hitting targets 50 yards away without trouble. And when the archery season opened this fall, Henze was
back in the field.

“I’m glad he still has the desire to go,” said Dave Miller, a lifelong friend and hunting buddy. “It is something we can continue to do together.

“It is a bit of a challenge but, hey, we are bow hunters so we are up for challenges.”

A ground blind was set up for Henze in Stephenson County this fall near the spot where he fell.

He hunted a couple of times each week and saw plenty of deer, but they weren’t in his range.

“Being outside was wonderful,” he said. “Just seeing everything going on, just like it used to be.”

The week before Thanksgiving a six-point buck walked within 25 yards of the blind, and Henze delivered a fatal shot. He called his buddies and his sister, Sally Henze, who came out and
handled the deer.

“I was so thrilled to hear that he got one,” Miller said.

Henze was thrilled, too.

“There is a certain freedom to it all,” he said. “I’m still able to do something. There’s not a lot you can’t do (as a paraplegic) but it is just how you are going to do it.

“The things you took for granted are ... different, very different.”

Information from: Rockford Register Star,

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Congrats to him! That is inspiring to have a goal like that and be able to reach it.  I am sure it will be the first of many.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/27 at 07:52 PM

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