By Ellen Paddock
The Paddock brothers were part of a defining era in western New York wrestling. With over one thousand high school wins and seven state championships it is safe to say they know how to win on the mat, but coming out on top was never more important than in the summer of 2011 when they faced a different kind of opposition.
Almost 10 years ago on Aug. 31, the Paddock brothers were cutting down a tree on their property when a small miscommunication led to a freak accident.
A 12-pound log fell from 40 feet and landed on the youngest brother, Aaron’s head. The 14-year-old fell lifelessly onto the grass. The screams for help spread so quickly that the father, Brad, heard from a house away and violently backed the family vehicle up to take Aaron to the hospital.
Jeanie Paddock, Aaron’s mother, said the first few seconds felt like they were in slow motion.
“I jumped into the back of the car then Brad handed Aaron to me,” Jeanie said. “I tried to hold his head together. It felt like life was draining from me.”
Aaron was immediately flown to Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, where the family learned his skull was fractured. Due to rapid brain swelling, the doctors warned that Aaron may not live. Aaron’s brother Burke recalled hearing that news.
“They told us he wasn’t going to make it,” Burke said. “If he was going to live the doctors said he wouldn’t ever be the same. That he would never speak or he would be paralyzed.”
Aaron was induced into a coma and a portion of his skull was removed to make room for brain swelling. It was placed in his stomach where the bone would regenerate. Determined to do everything in their power to help Aaron come out on top, the Paddock family never left the hospital.
“I wasn’t going to leave the hospital without him,” Jeanie said. “I had a no crying policy on his bedside because I believed he could hear us and I wanted him to only feel our love and joy.”
Ian, the second oldest brother, also refused to leave Aaron’s side. Ian was wrestling for The Ohio State University, but took a semester off to help Aaron recover.
“It was an easy decision at the time. I wanted to do everything in my power to help him,” Ian said. “I felt a responsibility to be there.”
Aaron began to exceed the expectations of the neurologists. Within two weeks he was responding to commands to wiggle his thumb or toe, which gave his family tremendous hope. However, it was still uncertain to what extent his health could be restored.
Until he spoke for the first time.
“When Aaron spoke I knew that God was answering us,” Jeanie said. “That day the doctors said it would be a month before he could possibly speak again, but he spoke a few hours later.”
Aaron’s first words were not what most would expect out of a person coming out of an induced coma. Instead, he took a jab Ian, who was earnestly hovering over him encouraging him to speak.
“He opened his eyes and looked kind of annoyed,” Ian said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Your breath smells.’ We all started laughing so hard.”
From that point on, Aaron’s recovery was rapid. Jeanie said the doctors were shocked and called it a miracle. He was moved out of the intensive care unit (ICU) and started physical therapy. Ian was still by his side attending every session.
“Ian paid attention to what the physical therapists had Aaron doing,” Jeanie said. “When they left Ian would put Aaron through it three more times.”
After 34 days in the hospital, Aaron came home.
He was named inspirational patient of the year, a title he thinks is more important than anything he could win in wrestling. Aaron said he made a full recovery and his family agreed, but he was still not content.
“I couldn’t imagine life without wrestling,” Aaron said. “I honestly didn’t think not wrestling was an option when I got home from the hospital. I figured I would just take a break and then get back onto the mat.”
Thankful that Aaron was alive, not paralyzed and free of any mental impairments, his family was extremely apprehensive about his request to wrestle again. On top of that, Aaron’s neurologist said he would never be cleared. However, as he improved his parents agreed to reevaluate.
After consulting different doctors, Aaron got the news he hoped for –– he could get back on the mat.
“I was terrified by that news,” Jeanie said. “But then I thought, if I believe God has healed him, why should I be afraid?”
Aaron went on to wrestle through high school and at Edinboro University. He defied several odds, but most importantly, he redefined what victory meant to his family. This August will mark 10 years from the date of his accident. Currently, Aaron continues to be involved in the sport by coaching at Team X Wrestling club.