Neshoba County’s Nathan Commer may have been seriously injured in an ATV race in Argentina on Feb. 25, but it was the trip back to the United States that nearly killed him.
Commer, a resident of the Arlington community, has been racing on the ATV Nationals circuit for three years and is one of the rising stars in the sport, winning three national championships in different divisions. But that’s on hold for now as he is recovering in a hospital in Atlanta from a spinal cord injury he suffered last month.
“It happened at the start of the race,” Commer said. “I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I got into another bike and we turned over. I was knocked out for a moment but when I came to, both bikes were on top of me and I couldn’t move.”
Commer, the son of Donnie and Faron Commer, is a member of the Media All-Stars, a group of seven ATV riders who compete all over the United States. He, three of his teammates, and a manager had made the trip to Argentina by invitation. There were 297 ATV competitors at the start of the race and Commer was about 20 riders back when the accident happened.
“That race was like NASCAR is here in the United States,” Commer said. “When I woke up, I was just laying there and a million Argentineans were screaming at the top of their lungs.
“They pulled the bike off of me. I couldn’t speak Spanish and they couldn’t speak English. Finally, my manager saw that it was me who was hurt and came down to help.”
Commer bruised and stretched his spinal cord at the C-3 vertebrate and there was some swelling that caused him to be paralyzed from the chest down. Fortunately, there were no tears or breaks in his spinal cord. The medical responders in Argentina apparently don’t receive the training that their counterparts in the United States do, Commer said.
He was placed on a board and taken out in the back of a pickup truck. Later, he was moved into an ambulance that Commer said looked more like an old ice cream truck.
“They took me to four different hospitals that day,” Commer said. “The first one looked like an old barn. Before he let me out, the ambulance driver made us pay what amounted to $8 for the ride.”
On top of that, the driver didn’t know where the hospital was.
“He was in town to help with the race and really didn’t know his way around,” Commer said.
At one point, an MRI was taken and it showed that there was no tears or breaks. Commer later learned that the MRI room had a dirt floor.
“I would have given anything to be in Neshoba General that day,” Commer said.
But the final hospital was fairly modern and he began receiving treatment. He was placed in ICU where he stayed until time to be transferred back to the United States.
Meanwhile, back in the states, work was under way to have Commer transported to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, one of the top hospitals in the world for treating spinal cord injuries.
An air ambulance was sent to bring him to Atlanta and that turned into another transportation nightmare.
“The service was in Florida, but they contracted with a Mexican company and they came to get me,” Commer said. “It was a 25-hour trip, and there were plane problems. We had to change planes in Mexico and then they had to come back to the same airport because the (new) airplane had fuel problems.
“If I had had internal injuries or a break in my spinal cord, I would have died. I am never leaving the United States again,” Commer vowed.
His sister, Dianne Madison, recalled his journey.
“He couldn’t sit up when he got to Atlanta, and they placed him in ICU,” Madison said. “But he started getting the correct treatment. He is in a wheelchair and he is starting to walk again.”
The good news is that Commer did make it to Atlanta and is beginning to make progress in his recovery. He began Physical Therapy and soon had feeling back in his chest and legs.
“They say feeling pain is a good thing,” Commer said. “I’m really hurting but I’m going to recover as much as I can.”
As of this past Sunday, he was walking some in his hospital room and feeling was returning in his right arm.
“I don’t know if I will ever be 100 percent again,” Commer said. “But I’m going to keep working hard and will be pretty close to it. I have numbness in my hands and they say that may be permanent but I will learn how to live with it.”
Commer has been riding ATVs at his Arlington community home since he was four, and has been competing since he was 18-years-old. At this point, whether he competes in ATV races again is questionable.
“All I can say is that it is in God’s hands,” Commer said. “Accidents like that happen sometimes, and often people die from them.
“I love the sport, and if I can’t ride again, I will do something in it.”
Meanwhile, he says he wants to return home to Neshoba County as soon as possible.
“If by March 31, I have made a lot of progress, I may come home and do my therapy there,” Commer said. “If not, I may stay in one of the hospital’s apartments and continue here.”
An all day benefit is set for Saturday at Mars Hill Volunteer Fire Department to raise money to help with Commer’s medical expenses.
By STEVE SWOGETINSKY