By Rocio Hernandez
University of Nevada, Reno sophomore Hunter Rand didn’t watch cartoons while growing up. Instead, he enjoyed watching TV shows from the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and PBS where divers explored the depths of the ocean. Rand knew he wanted to see this part of the world for himself.
An opportunity to do this presented itself last year when his Kappa Alpha fraternity brother Jace Hargrove invited him to go on trip to Honduras to scuba dive. Rand enrolled in a scuba diving class to prepare for the trip and received advanced open water certification in April 2014.
Rand and Hargrove headed for Honduras in June. They dove into the Atlantic Ocean and saw a shipwreck, sea turtles and a giant grouper. As the water surrounded him, Rand felt amazed by all that he was seeing.
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and the most emotional experience I’ve ever had,” Rand said. “Just floating in the water is surreal.”
After the trip, Rand continued scuba diving. On July 12, Hargrove and Rand went to practice their diving skills at Lake Tahoe. They completed two hour-long dives before heading back to Reno.
As Rand was going to sleep that night, he realized that something was wrong with his body because he began to feel the most terrible pain he had experienced in his life. He thought he must have pinched a nerve and wanted to take a Tylenol pill to alleviate his body, but then his body temperature began drop. Rand decided to call an ambulance.
“I walked out [of my house] under my own power and I collapsed in the ambulance bed and that was the last time I walked for a couple of days,” Rand said.
More complications developed as the night went on. Rand suffered from a stroke on the left side of his brain. The pain began to fade away, but not because of the medication he was given. Rand was becoming paralyzed.
Rand was diagnosed with decompression sickness, a condition in which nitrogen bubbles are trapped inside of a person’s body tissues and bloodstream, in some cases near the joints. He went through hyperbaric oxygen therapy for four days to recompress his body.
“I think the worst sensation ever is when you’re paralyzed, getting in your skin and everything, it felt uncomfortable like a paper cut in between the fingers,” Rand said. “It was like that all over my body.”
Rand felt better after he completed the treatment at Renown Regional Medical Center, but effects of DCS still lingered. As a result of the condition, Rand developed osteonecrosis, a disease that causes bones to die. He said that it makes it hard to walk and impossible to climb stairs.
The medications he takes cause him to bald and have difficulty digesting food. Bleeding out of his nose and mouth is so common for Rand now that he carries an extra shirt to change into. His doctors have told him he might live for another one to five years; some of his doctors say that if he makes it past that, he will develop another disability.
When Rand first broke the news to his fraternity, chapter president Jarrod Peterson remembered that he was in disbelief and didn’t fully comprehend the situation until later in the day.
“I was just sitting in my apartment, going over the details that it really hit me and I started tearing up because he is a great kid,” Peterson said. “To hear that someone at his age has one to five years to live, it’s pretty messed up.”
Money has also become a problem for Rand. Renown hasn’t sent him the full bill, but the amount he has been charged for is over $150,000 and Rand’s insurance company hasn’t stated what percentage it will cover.
Kappa Alpha hosted a bake sale to raise money for Rand and set up a GoFundMe account online. Peterson said that the fraternity has raised $1,500 thus far and hopes it will be able to raise more in future fundraising and by reaching out to more people the members know in the community.
Rand said that some days are hard for him and he frequently feels like giving up. His fraternity, friends and family have all tried to motivate him and point out things in his life that make it worth trying. UNR junior and Rand’s close friend Miranda Hoover said that she has seen Rand trying to make the best out of his situation.
“Anytime someone goes through a humongous change, especially such a dramatic one, it is going to change you as a person and it has really opened his eyes to look at himself and look at life [differently] and take every single day like it could be your last,” Hoover said. “People say this all the time and it’s kind of a cliche, but he really has.”
This experience has taught Rand to seize the day and live without limits. Life has given him another chance and he doesn’t plan on wasting it.
“I have dreams still,” Rand said. “I want to get married, contributing to society more than I already have and finish my bucket list. I am stubborn and I just kind of want the doctors to be wrong.”
The link to Rand’s GoFundMe page is here: http://www.gofundme.com/fqsqtg
Rocio Hernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @rociohdz19.