Signal Mountain teenager's recovery offers clues, hope - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Local teenager's recovery offers clues, hope for paralyzed Lafayette athlete

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SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, TN. (WRCB) -- Cutler Cole has had to retrain his muscles and limbs to do everything.

Two years ago, a back-flip dive, 47 feet into the water below Hixson's Hidden Harbor Cliffs, broke his neck.

"It was like hitting concrete," his mother, Patti Cole, says. "It's just so hard to see your capable son, very athletic son, laying there, not knowing what the future is."

Cutler had been a swimmer at Signal Mountain High.

Austin Whitten, 15, had played varsity football, basketball and baseball as a freshman at Lafayette High School.

His family says doctors have given him only a one percent chance of walking, after a belly-flop into a friend's pool broke his neck early Saturday evening.

"You don't see some Seniors, as physically, as emotionally mature, as Austin," Lafayette football coach Roone Gable says.

Such drive and determination could be critical in his recovery.

"I would take his drive, and his motivation, and the fact that he wants it now, and push him even harder," says registered nurse Rachel Halter, an occupational therapist at Chattanooga's Siskin Hospital.

Cutler rehabbed at Siskin.

Austin's family says Siskin is one of his options, as is Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta.

Though Cutler's and Austin's diagnoses, prognoses, and potentials may differ,  Halter says their starting points probably don't.

"We're gonna focus on your basic skill; are you able to dress yourself, are you able to take yourself to the bathroom?"

Typical regimens, she says, are an hour of occupational therapy and two hours of physical therapy, six days per week.

"And when he has an incident in which something doesn't happen in the right way, we use that to our advantage to teach from that incident."

"Whether he (Cutler) could walk or not, didn't come up," Patti Cole says. "It was just that he could move."

Cutler not only has regained use of his legs, he ran cross-country his senior year at Signal Mountain. He can't swim competitively; the injury prevents him from diving off of the starting blocks.

But he's spending the week in Jamaica on a church mission trip. And he's majoring in physical therapy at East Tennessee State University.

Three days after his injury, Austin Whitten's future is far from clear. But Patti Cole knows he can draw upon two strengths, based on how critical they were for Cutler.

"God was on our side," she says. "And his friends could come down and visit him during therapy. Cutler wasn't about to let them down if he couldn't."

Austin's friends and coaches have made clear they'll be there for him.

"Anytime he has a chance to do something he's definitely taking it," teammate Logan Edgeman says.

"It' s a group-wide commitment, "Coach Wes Maddux says. "Everybody wants to do their part to help out."

Patti Cole urges them to celebrate every bit of Austin's progress.

"Nobody knows what will happen," she says. "Miracles happen all the time. Just have faith."

"Just have faith."

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