BORN TO BE A COWBOY
After the result of a life-changing injury at a PBR Classic, Koben Puckett's life went down a path that he had never imagined. He has since been on the path of pursuing recovery from a devastating spinal cord injury. View complete story below.
Starting in 2014, he hosts an annual PBR event at the Will Rodgers Range Riders Bud Light Arena in Amarillo, Texas on the first Saturday in August. This event raises funds for the Press On Foundation, which gives scholarships to attend specialized spinal cord injury recovery therapy in Austin, Texas for individuals that are pursuing recovery from this type of injury.
Visit the Press On Foundation's website: pressonfoundation.org and I hope you will consider giving a tax deductible gift today!
BORN TO BE A COWBOY
Koben Puckett was born and raised into a rodeo family in New Mexico. He lived there for about 18 years and then moved to Texas. Koben Puckett’s childhood dream was to be a bull rider. You could say rodeo was part of the family’s bloodline. Dan Puckett, Koben’s dad, competed as a professional bull rider in the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). His mom, Vana, was a barrel racer. According to family legend, Koben’s first words were baw bull – “bucking bull." Cattle, horses, and especially bucking bulls all have shaped his life and as you would expect are his passion. 1995 brought an addition to the family of a baby girl named Payson, who in her own life story is a miracle. Payson and Koben have been there for each other through it all. "I love my sister to the moon and back, and am so proud of her!"
Koben started riding steers at age 10, later graduated to junior bulls and then High School rodeos, winning various awards and championships all along the way. By age 16, Koben had begun competing against adults in amateur and open bull-riding competitions. Even better, he was winning. “As soon as I turned 18, I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. He wanted to compete in the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas. "So I hit the road. I was fortunate to have traveled with some great guys who have become life long friends. I was also fortunate to get to travel and see many new places. I learned a lot from it all."
“How can I describe him?” said Dusty LaBeth, who traveled with Puckett. “Koben had a calm, hungry but very humble spirit. I saw a warrior in him. Every time he nodded his head, there was no halfway. The one thing I admired about Koben was his desire to do the right thing — in and out of the arena.”
He had done well already but had not experience an event win yet. The next year in 2008 was different for Canyon’s Koben Puckett, all it took was a taste of success. The occasion was a Professional Bull Riders (PBR) event in Huntsville, Ala., in the spring of the 2008 season. He achieved the first win of his pro career, and the victory propelled him forward. “I wasn't going to stop,” he remembers. “I knew I could win and I knew I could do it again.” He did. Koben went on to win three other touring pro competitions that summer, with a half-dozen finishes in the top five, winning several thousand dollars. On four occasions, he posted rides exceeding 90 points. By fall of that year, at age 19, he had put together an exceptional 2008 season. He was becoming known as one of the top young up and coming bull riders and was close to being on his way to making the cut for the Built Ford Tough Series.
The life changing injury
But on September 6, 2008 in Mesquite, TX life as he knew it was changed. "Everything came to a stop" as he said, that night at a PBR classic event he was thrown from the bull near the eight-second whistle and, landing on his head, he sustained a broken neck at C5-6. He was then stepped on by the bull causing other injuries such as broken ribs, fractured lower back and a punctured lung. He was rushed to the ICU. Within hours, Koben was intubated and on a ventilator, the victim of a devastating spinal cord injury. Over the course of eight seconds, he had gone from an up-and-coming cowboy who sat atop bucking bulls to a quadriplegic confined to a power wheelchair. Make that a temporary quadriplegic. Because Koben Puckett doesn’t intend to stay this way.
"He was doing what he loved. It has been a lifelong dream to compete in the Professional Bull Riders, and he was following that dream when he was injured," said Dan Puckett, Koben’s father.
The journey to recovery will be long and hard. “He is a tough kid and he will deal with it. It’s going to be a long road, but I know he will come out of it. He has a great attitude and spirit that makes us all proud to be cowboys,” said Cody Lambert, one of PBR Founders and current Livestock Director.
At the time of being released from his initial hospital stay, 3 and half weeks in ICU trauma unit at Baylor plus another 3, for a total of a little over 6 weeks, Koben was doing well to be out of bed for 3 or 4 hours in a day. He had no use of his right arm and limited use of his left shoulder and bicep, he had to have assistance to raise a utensil to his mouth that had to be strapped to his wrist and hand. On the way out, one of Koben's physical therapists pulled Dan aside and said that you might as well get him to face reality, this is all he's ever going to have.
Holding on to hope when only deathly health can be seen
With the family not accepting this to be the end, even after another life threatening experience, an emergency intestinal bypass surgery that took place that winter of 2008, leaving Koben in an unsightly state of health of weighing only 76 pounds.. Vana researched and found something that offered hope, PROJECT WALK in California, an exercise to move program. The family stayed there for 9 months in 2009. “Through enduring lots of pain in the beginning, I actually got to start seeing some progress with my abilities. I definitely strengthened and toughened up a little. At Project Walk they get you out of your chair and help you move, no matter how much or how little you can do on your own. I still use this foundation in spinal cord injury recovery based exercise and have built on it today in my own exercise therapy program."
"In comparison to where I started when I first got to California, afterwards I noted significant improvements in my health and well being. Voluntary movement had shown up in my right arm, I could raise my shoulder, and slightly flex bicep. Left arm improved, as well. My ability to stay upright improved and I could now be out of bed for substantial periods of time." He then continued this type of therapy at home for about a year with his parents as his trainers, along with the help of some friends. "During that time of a little over a year at home, I honestly wasn't changing much, but I was keeping myself moving and from losing strength."
Opportunity to further recovery
The family began to look into stem cells. After research, careful consideration, and lots of prayer, Koben decided to go to Cyprus with Dr. Scott Spann. January of 2011, Koben was the first American to fly over seas with an American doctor to undergo a procedure involving decompression/removal of scar tissue at injury level, and applied on bone marrow derived stem cells at and around injury site. "Immediately following the procedure it was easier to breathe and felt like I had some control of expanding my chest."
March 2011, Koben lived in Austin, TX with his parents, who traded out every month and traveled back and forth between home and Austin for his care. Koben was a client at two different types of Therapy/Rehab programs working at his recovery. He worked out at PROJECT WALK-AUSTIN, now known as Easter Seals Central Texas Life Center, with Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Specialist Chad Steed, where he continues to receive training to take home. This training includes nervous system activation, load bearing activities, weight lifting, and gait training. Koben also went to an occupational therapist, Debbie Tindle, that performed special bodywork therapy such as breaking up old scar tissue and increasing circulation. Dr. Spann credits Debbie for being instrumental in his own recovery from paralysis. "Debbie and Chad have been a major part of helping me recover and guiding my recovery journey." says Koben.
For the year following this surgery, Koben experienced improvements in PT/exercise therapy, weight gain, strength, range of motion in his upper body, improvements in the use of his right arm, increased ability to set up for an extended period of time, stronger wrist flexion in his left hand, and he was able to eat some food on his own using an adaptive silverware. He also had a substantial decrease in neck pain and an increase in range of motion of his neck.
August 2011, back home in Canyon, Koben continued the home exercise based therapy program with his parents as his trainers/assistants and full time care givers. Even with the help of of his parents he was not able to get to near the amount of therapy that he was receiving while living in Austin.
In 2012, the Texas state medical board legalized the use of adult stem cells by qualified physicians. This was great news for Koben and others pursuing recovery from spinal cord injuries in the state of Texas. In the fall of 2012 and spring of 2013, Koben was able to get an intrathecal bone marrow concentrate injection of his stem cells. After this injection, Koben was able to notice improvements in his health and an increase in the use of his arms. "What I personally learned from stem cell injections was that recovery time was key. Stem cells are not a magic bullet and the use of them has to be coupled with lots of intense physical/exercise therapy to get results. Immediately following the injection there is a disruption of spinal fluid and this can result in spinal headaches. Lying down and taking it easy for the first 24-36 hours is the best way to avoid or ease them. Icing the aspiration and injection sites every couple of hours for 10 minutes helps, too. I learned this the hard way after March of 2013."
Unable to return for further stem cell treatment due to lack of funds, Koben and his family continued home exercise therapy with the help of different friends and a few college students interested in going into PT or OT. Recovery state in spring of 2014 Most of my workouts at home required two people. A WT college student, Lauren Carter now Lauren Carter Petty, was assisting me with therapy, but always with one of my parents. Later, her brother, Brendon Carter, joined my team. At this point in time, my core stability and strength was minimal and I needed someone spotting me at all times when doing any type of balance work.
Koben Puckett Invitational
With the hope of more improvement and an increased passion for helping others pursue recovery, Koben dreamed of hosting a bull riding to help raise funds for therapy for himself and others dealing with spinal cord injuries. That's when he organized the 2014 Koben Puckett Invitational, now an annual PBR Touring Pro event at the Will Rogers Range Riders Bud Light Arena. The competition, which features some of the best riders, bulls, and bull fighters in the world, raises money for the Press On Foundation and for the recovery needs of individuals with spinal cord injuries. Koben said. “It’s a chance to help other people just like myself to recover and get better. It’s pretty fun to do that, to help others.” Along with Dr. Scott Spann and many others, Koben and Vana Puckett serve on Press On’s board of directors. The goal of the Press On Foundation is to give people with spinal cord injuries a chance at recovery by providing them with scholarships for rehabilitation treatment and hopefully future stem cell therpies. Click here to view Press On Foundation's website: pressonfoundation.org
“I had been on a plateau in my recovery,” Koben says, and as promising as those changes had been, his body had stopped progressing. “That’s when it got hardest,” he says. “I was so motivated and then stuff stopped changing and I even regressed a little. I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps at times and figure out what to do. I have large dreams. My goal is to be fully independent and live on my own and care for myself. My goal is to walk and walk well! I have experienced the frustration of setting goals and not being able to meet them on my timetable. Those setbacks keep me fully grounded."
“There is no quit in that little son of a gun,” Dusty LaBeth said. “As long as friends and family are there, he’s never going to give up. He never cries, whines or complains. He’s focused on walking again.”
2015 Blasting Through Plateaus
April 2015, I'm able to go back to Austin for therapies as a result of funds raised at the 2014 event, and, with the help of a great friend, to get a stem cell injection! I could not do any of this without the help and support of my family. The help of a great friend has given me the opportunity to get to continue utilizing my own adult stem cells and increase the amount of exercise therapy I can do, which is a huge and amazing blessing that I'm so grateful for!
May 2015, with fresh stem cells in my spinal cord and increased amount of time spent in my home gym working on recovery, approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours five days a week, we begin seeing noticeable improvements! Another WT college student, Sarah Skarke, joined in helping my recovery at this same time. She has been a part of my recovery journey for the past 2 1/2 years and continues to help me do the impossible to this day! She's been to Austin several times with me, working hands on with several spinal cord injury recovery therapists. She has become known as my exercise therapist, although to me, Sarah is my friend who is helping me walk again.
“In all honesty, Koben is one of the hardest workers I have ever met,” Sarah said. “He can push through the pain. And he’s one of the happiest and most joyful people I’ve met, despite all that he and his family have been through. Working with him is not a hard "job" to do at all. The experience and friendship has positively affected me more than he could ever know...and definitely more than I ever thought it would."
Improvements: Some noticeable (but limited) trunk control, we began using a walker to stand at home that required knee locking and hip assistance with Sarah supporting almost my full body weight, noticeable muscle gain, improvement in core strength, increased ability to remain upright. Up until this point, I had never been able to lean forward off the back rest of my chair, for instance, to lean forward and rest my elbows onto a table in front of me and then sit back. I can now do this easily. Later in the summer, standing with the walker was getting better. Sarah noticed it was easier for her to keep my hips pulled forward and knees locked.
August 2015 we returned to Austin for another stem cell injection and check in with therapists. A Stem Cell injection/procedure takes all but 30 minutes to an hour. It starts by having a bone marrow aspiration done. They take my own bone marrow and use equipment from Celling Biosciences to separate out the stem cells then they inject those into my spinal cord. "Fowling the injection, I experienced a real itchy feeling on the skin of my chest in an area where previously I could not feel. When I scratch it, it is relieved. My grip in my left hand was noticeably a little stronger and I was able to pick up/grasp more objects of different sizes and weight, allowing me to eat and drink more on my own. There were also continued gains in trunk control. November 2015 When I stood in a walker I could, for a little while, hold my left leg locked and then unlock it on my own!
I'm so thankful for the love and care of others in my life! I hope to share love with those in my life whenever I can. Thanks to a great team, including past college student assistants, Lauren Carter Petty, Brendon Carter, Anna Skarke, and Brook Castleberry, I have been able to work and accomplish the therapy needed here at home in Canyon, TX. I truly appreciate their time and interest in helping me reach my goals.
Improvements and changes in 2016
I can stand with less assistance, able to remain standing while Sarah release my knees or hips but not both at the same time, my triceps are starting to engage better; in certain exercises I can hold myself forward with my arms by myself now for a couple minutes before the triceps fatigue. I can bench press some weight and can raise it higher above my chest, I have expanded the use of my totalgym, and muscle gain has increased in the past year.
With the ability to continue to return to Austin for a stem cell injection/procedure and check up with therapists Debbie Tindle and Chad Steed two to three times a year, also constantly increasing time spent in home exercise therapy, I am able to progress in recovery. It can seem slow and hard to see over short periods of time but when I look back I am so thankful for the physical improvements and improvements in my quality of life. It's a cool feeling when someone says, "you didn't used to be able to do that!" That's when I know I'm changing!
“The commitment he’s made is tremendous,” Chad Steed said. “Not only mentally, but physically. Knowing it could take his whole life to get where he wants to be — and not give up — takes a tremendous amount of character and hard work.”
For the first time in 8 years, feeling had begun to return in parts of my hands, thumb palms, and I was able to feel temperature! I am able to work towards practicing crawling while on elbows and knees with a ball under to support core. At this time I also increased my workout time to spending close to 3 hours a day five days a week in the gym.
There have been many ups and downs throughout my journey. The winter of 2016/17 was a rough one even though progress was able to slightly continue. I dealt with several UTIs(if you've never experienced a UTI just know they can be very painful) as well as a couple bad head colds that really put a damper on how much I was able to workout. Without the hard work to accompany the stem cells, you don't see as much progress. I also have experienced a couple rough days here and there that take a toll on a guy mentally. But it happens. The key is not staying there. I am continually learning and being reminded of how much Jesus loves me. And this love, along with the love of many others, is the only way I'll be able to make it through this thing called life.
2017 has truly been an awesome year with overall improvements in all mobility and exercises
I have made improvements in my work on elbows and knees. As of recent, I have been able to take a step forward and get up on my hands and knees. Standing continues to improve. I now can stand with just Sarah's help and no other assistance is needed. On good days she is able to let go of my hips and knees briefly and I maintain standing on my own with the aid of the walker. It's very tough for that brief moment of standing. It's a mile stone in my list of accomplishment for sure! I am responding to stimulation better and I am able to control muscles in my lower extremities for brief periods of time.
These are incredible accomplishments and they come as a result of my dedication to recovery, healthy eating, and my stem cell injections. Also, in September I had the opportunity to learn from and work with one of the best spinal cord injury recovery specialist in the world, Bri Wilhelm. She worked hands on with Sarah and I for about a week. Since then we have taken what we learned from her, along with guidance from Chad and Debbie, and we apply it daily, 5 hours a day 5 days a week. And another milestone, Sarah and I do all of this on our own without any assistance. It certainly doesn't come easy but I'm dedicated to recovery and I want to see how far I can get. This would not be possible without so many, especially my family who have been there through it all. And, as far as my current therapy, Sarah works her butt off for me and I couldn't accomplish what I'm doing today with out her help. She is truly an irreplaceable friend!
I look forward to seeing how far I can get with the hope of one day walking again, or better yet, being able to do a backflip again! -Koben
For more information regarding stem cells or the exercise therapy in Austin, contact me through the contact tab on this website. Also, if you are interested in my story or have in mind anyone that it might positively affect, I am currently looking for motivational speaking opportunities. I want people to know that recovery from a devastating injury such as this is more than possible and that there is always hope, no matter what circumstances you are in. Find the joy in your journey.