It's crazy. Him riding a bike, the tree falling, someone healthy, a father, to go through something like that. My heart went out to him. —Tanner Mangum
PROVO — On the night of Nov. 4, 2017, in Fresno State’s Bulldog Stadium, Tanner Mangum’s Achilles tendon ruptured and he thought the world had crashed down upon him. He soon learned how far from the truth that was when he met Cory Nilsson, who actually did have his world collapse.
While riding his bike in the right fork of Hobble Creek Canyon the afternoon of Aug. 30, three days before Mangum would lead BYU against LSU in New Orleans, a microburst wind storm snapped a tree from its moorings and blew it into Nilsson, who was going 30 miles an hour down the road. The odds of this happening are unfathomable.
The crash crushed Nilsson, of Springville, rendering him helpless and unconscious and bleeding internally at a time he was taking blood-thinning medication. If not for a series of miracles in the ensuing hour, Nilsson would have died.
One of those was left fork of the canyon residents Vince and Krista Adams (the latter, a nurse) just happened to cut a recreational outing in the right fork short and came upon Nilsson. They knew the exact spots in the canyon where cell service is available to make a 911 call. Two off-duty rescue officers responded.
Nilsson was given CPR in a last-ditch effort to save his life at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, usually a last resort effort. He received 21 units of blood in his first 90 minutes at the hospital.
Nilsson was bleeding 500 milliliters per minute. Blinded by head trauma, his liver, lungs and kidneys were damaged. Cory would later undergo seven hours of surgery. He almost bled to death, although outwardly, he only showed a few scrapes on an elbow. The accident starved his spinal cord of blood and oxygen, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
Nilsson has not returned home since that fateful day. He’s living in a recovery center in Salt Lake City, and celebrated his 53rd birthday in November in a hospital room. He has regained his sight and was able to put on regular clothes for the first time the day Mangum visited him earlier this month.
“I think it’s tragic, it’s heartbreaking,” said Mangum. “Brett Pyne, our media director, told me about him and I wanted to visit him ever since I heard his story."
In fact, Pyne had a surprise visit set up earlier but he caught a cold. Not wanting to spread germs, Pyne postponed the visit and Mangum kept calling him, anxious to see Nilsson.
“It's crazy. Him riding a bike, the tree falling, someone healthy, a father, to go through something like that. My heart went out to him," Mangum said. "To be able to meet him was something special. Things like this are more beneficial to me than it is for them. I left feeling uplifted more than they felt uplifted. Cory is such an example of strength. His example of courage and the perspective his family has with such a positive attitude and remembering what matters most, putting families first, was really impactful to me.”
Right before Mangum’s visit, Nilsson was able to transition to a wheelchair. He and Mangum discussed their respective rehabilitation challenges. After Mangum’s visit, Nilsson has been awaiting surgery to build a flap for bedsore complications. Once he has the procedure, it will require six to eight weeks of laying in bed for his wound to heal before he can sit up again.
From there, it will take three-and-a-half months of additional recovery time. Nilsson hopes to return home by July. His wife, Kirstin, a labor and delivery nurse at Timpanogos Hospital in Orem, has taken nearly six months off work to be by his side and manage family affairs.
Adding insult to injury, because his insurance would not pay for out-of-network care close to home, Nilsson's rehab in Salt Lake City forced Kirstin and their children to long commutes in order to be by his side.
Both Tanner and Cory are healing. Mangum obviously is winning the race and Nilsson’s life will be altered for the rest of his time on earth.
A huge BYU fan, Nilsson was shocked when Mangum showed up in his hospital room. He got to know Pyne while on his LDS Church mission to Rome, and understood Pyne was coming for a visit. What he did not know was that the star QB would also be dropping by to see him.
“We bleed blue,” said Nilsson.
“I was shellshocked. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was really happy about it, he’s a good guy. He’s a lot bigger than I thought he’d be.
“We talked about his injury, he encouraged me to keep trying and to not give up. He told me he’d see me at a football game next season. It was really nice of him to take the time and I appreciate it. We took a few photos and he had a football signed by many of his teammates. It was awesome.”
Mangum was extremely impressed by Nilsson.
“What I got from him is he is very humble, polite, down to earth and respectful. He was very gracious and positive, sharing stories of his mission, his life. He sort of had this light about him. He had a great smile and it radiated in his family too, in his wife, his daughters, and son. He had a very welcoming family who was very easy and fun to be around.”
Mangum frequently makes such visits as a BYU athlete, but he didn’t take any special message that day.
“I just wanted to meet him. Brett had told me he was a big football fan. I just wanted to get to know them and extend my love to them. I think it was a very good experience. To see them was motivating to me; that through our struggles, we can handle it in a positive way.
“It showed me that the things I am going through aren’t as big or as life-changing as other things are. It reminded me that things could be a lot worse. I am walking. I have control of my lower body. He is paralyzed from the chest down and lives a very different life now. It makes me appreciative of what I have.”
Kirstin has fought alongside her husband, whom she describes as her best friend and the most Christ-like person she knows.
She was told Cory would never see again, yet he does. His kidneys were not supposed to function after being in shock for 12 weeks, yet they are 35 to 40 percent efficient and he’s not on dialysis. He should not have lived, yet he is battling every day.
“So, here’s our miracle man,” she said.
Nilsson had to have his gallbladder removed and had multiple abdominal surgeries to close his abdomen.
Explained Kirstin, “They had to do what’s called a clamshell surgery where they cut him under his entire breastbone and then across, from under one arm all the way across to the other arm. So they cut him open like a T. That had to be all closed up and that took about six weeks. He also had back surgery. His entire pelvis was crushed, he broke his elbow and broke some bones in his neck, but didn’t have to have surgery on those.”
Cory and Kirstin are seven months into this one in a million type tragedy. A GoFundMe account is active to help with mounting expenses. More details about Cory can be found on a "Courage for Cory" Facebook page
“Meeting with Cory only made me appreciate even more the platform playing football at BYU has given me,” said Mangum. “It’s given me opportunities to meet incredible people like Cory and his family and further realize that serving people is what life is really all about.
“Also, it has helped as far as my motivation levels throughout my injury recovery. Because I’ve been through different adversities throughout my time here, I’ve learned that it makes the successes even more rewarding when they’re obtained through overcoming obstacles and adversity.
“I’ve given my full heart to BYU football, through the highs and the lows and I wanna keep fighting for as long as I can. This injury is just another step in that fight.”
Kirstin loves a quote found on her Facebook page that says, “Courage is not always a roar. It’s the quiet voice saying, I will try again tomorrow.”
“That sums up my husband. He has never been one to roar, but he is mighty in heart, in determination, and in integrity. The Courage for Cory T-shirts that we’re wearing in the pictures with Tanner were made by my brother-in-law and the top part of it is a mountain. It’s a mountain to symbolize where he was when his accident happened, but that he chose to go up that mountain because he can do hard things.
"He’s also very stalwart and has a lot of inner strength. A mountain just sits there and does its thing. It doesn’t roar. It just does it’s thing quietly. Also on the shirt is a heart that’s flayed open. Cory would do anything for anyone. If it snowed, he was over doing the neighbors' walks before he did ours. If somebody’s moving in, it doesn’t matter that his back is hurting, he’d help regardless if he’d have a busy day.
"He’s serving, just in his kind, quiet way.”