Local recovering in Grand Junction hospital after falling at Arches National Park

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— Steamboat Springs resident Ryan McConnell is recovering in a Grand Junction hospital this week after falling off a rock “fin” while hiking March 12 in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

“He’s doing good,” Ryan’s mom, Wendy, said Wednesday afternoon. “Especially when you consider what happened.”

The 22-year-old McConnell, a senior at Montana State University in Bozeman, was visiting the park with a large group of friends during spring break. The group had just finished mountain biking near Moab and decided to check out Arches while they were in the neighborhood.

“They were off the beaten path,” Wendy said.

The group left for a hike from the Devil’s Garden trailhead and walked about 1.5 miles, said Mike Hill, of Canyon Lands National Park. At that point, the group walked out onto a rock “fin." The group was returning when Ryan took a slightly different path back to the larger group. The path gave way, and Ryan slipped and then fell approximately 100 feet over the edge, Hill said. Ryan came to rest in a dried creek bed after a hard fall onto his back.

Other members of Ryan’s group was able to get the attention of nearby hikers, two of which were off duty emergency medical technicians who were able to get to Ryan in a short period of time. The group also was able to contact a park ranger who radioed for medical and rescue personal.

Ryan was transported by a national parks service litter team from the accident scene to a waiting helicopter and flown to the nearest trauma center in Grand Junction.

His mother said Ryan suffered a lacerated liver and spleen and bruised his left lung in the fall. He also broke his C-2 vertebrae and suffered a head injury that has impacted his short-term memory.

His mom said he was heavily sedated shortly after the accident and had to have a breathing tube. However, the breathing tube now has been removed, and doctors have reduced the amount of pain medication he is taking.

“He remembers his name and his birthday,” Wendy said. “He got up and took a couple of steps the other day, which was extremely amazing.”

She also is encouraged that Ryan recognizes his family members and many of his friends who have stopped by the hospital to visit him during the past week.

She expects Ryan to remain in the hospital for at least a week, and then she thinks he will be transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Grand Junction or Denver where he can get the help he needs for his recovery.

Wendy has spent the past week in Grand Junction, and Ryan’s father, Tim, has been commuting back and forth to the hospital. Ryan’s older brother Corey is in Grand Junction on his spring break from the University of Nevada, and their younger brother Will still is in Steamboat Springs.

Wendy said she has received a tremendous amount of support from friends and church members in Steamboat Springs. She is thankful for the cards, flowers and other items that have been pouring in since news of the accident spread.

Ryan competed earlier this month at the NCAA skiing championships in Park City, Utah. When those championships ended, Wendy said, he traveled to Moab with college friends.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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