On Jan. 9, Mark Wagner was a runner and skier, a man in perfect physical condition. He was a flight captain with US Airways. He was a husband, father to two small boys and part owner of the Stockyards restaurant in Phoenix.
On Jan. 10, a hunting accident changed everything.
It wasn’t a gun that did it, but the impact of a gravel truck hitting the car that Wagner, his father-in-law and his wife’s uncle were riding in on a hunting trip in Nebraska. The truck hit their vehicle broadside, catching Wagner in the back seat.
The other men have recovered from their injuries, but Wagner suffered a spinal cord injury that has left him a quadriplegic.
Tom Lentz, one of three owners of the Stockyards, heard the news from general manager Gary Lasko.
“It hit pretty hard,” said Lentz, who worked with Wagner and J.B. Grantham as Stockyards busboys while they all attended Arizona State University. They bought and remodeled the restaurant in 2005 as Wagner continued his career as a pilot.
Lasko, who has known Wagner for three years, described him as “very down to earth, a very nice man, a solid guy, a great family man.”
The Stockyards will host a fundraiser and silent auction for the Wagner family from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Proceeds will help defray Wagner’s medical expenses and the family’s efforts to retro-fit their home to accommodate his needs.
Wagner and his wife, Julie, last year moved with their sons to Evergreen, Colo., where the couple grew up. Their house is being outfitted with an accessible shower and a lift between the first and second floor. Floors will be tiled to make an easier path for Wagner’s wheelchair.
Julie, a certified public accountant who worked at the Stockyards as a bookkeeper, took a leave from her job with Mesa-based Lohman Co., PLLC, to care for her husband. After three weeks in a Nebraska hospital and three months at Denver’s Craig Hospital, which specializes in Rehabilitation and research for spinal cord injury, Wagner went home May 15.
Much of the news is good. Wagner breathes on his own and has some feeling and movement in his left arm. He suffered no brain trauma.
“He has made progress since the accident,” Julie said. “We’re still maintaining a lot of hope that things will get better.”
Hope is realistic, said Dr. Nicholas Theodore, director of neurotrauma at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.
Theodore has not seen Wagner but said his injury would be described as an “incomplete” spinal-cord injury that can show remarkable recovery, including walking.
“There is a chance, absolutely,” Theodore said.
Research abounds in the spinal-cord field, he said, from stem-cell investigations to new medications. A drug he is working on would block negative reactions that prevent healing.
Wagner’s age, 39, and his pre-accident condition are assets.
“The better shape you’re in, the better chance for recovery,” Theodore said.
Julie remains optimistic, thanks to a close network of friends and family in Evergreen.
Wagner’s airline and many of his fellow pilots have come to their aid. One pilot held a raffle to raise funds. US Airways Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker and several vice presidents have phoned to see how the family is faring.
Wagner isn’t hiding. He has attended all of his sons’ soccer games, and the boys, 3 and 7, look forward to the day Daddy returns to the ski slopes, even if he needs assistance.
Julie said there are days when she gets down, when it’s hard to get out of bed. But the bad days are followed by good.
“We’re doing what we have to,” she said. “We’re lucky to have Mark around. . . . We’re staying positive and planning for improvement.”
Fundraiser at the Stockyards
What: Dinner to benefit the family of Stockyards co-owner Mark Wagner. Includes buffet dinner; live music; more than 100 raffle prizes, including a five-day, four-night trip to Puerto Vallarta; a baseball autographed by Curt Schilling; signed artwork from Cowboy Artists of America; and martini baskets.
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Stockyards restaurant, 5009 E. Washington St., Phoenix.
Details: $25 for adults, $5 for ages 12 and younger. Raffle tickets $5 each. www.stockyardsrestaurant.com. (602) 273-7378. For contributions, visit www.caringbridge.org and enter the site name “markwagner.”