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A Better Frame of Mind

From a terrifying fall on an Icelandic mountain to rising above his doubts — Daniel Hund credits Shepherd Center with putting him on a more positive path to the future.

Iceland was supposed to be a celebration, an adventure long delayed for high school sweethearts and newlyweds Daniel and Sierra Hund.

When they married in 2020, the pandemic wiped out their honeymoon plans to ski the mountains of Iceland’s Tröllaskagi Peninsula. Two years later, the couple — then 22 and living in Lynchburg, Virginia — finally made it to Iceland. When they arrived on the evening of March 16, 2022, the future seemed as limitless as the frozen fjords and snow-capped peaks that dominated the majestic landscape around them.  

“Neither of us expected life was about to change so drastically, so quickly,” Daniel says.

Less than 12 hours later, while on a solo morning hike, Daniel’s skis lost traction on a steep, glassy slope. He skidded, then plunged more than 30 meters down a deep ice chute. The fall resulted in a complete T-3-to-T-4 spinal cord injury, along with multiple traumas.

By the time members of a nearly 100-person rescue team located him six hours later, Daniel had gone into cardiac arrest and experienced a stroke caused by hypothermia and internal bleeding. He’d also sustained a traumatic brain injury due to the stroke, and his prolonged hypothermia would eventually require the amputation of his legs, just above the knees.

“What I remember most is believing wholeheartedly that I was going to die,” Daniel says. “The feeling that it was over. That feeling has stuck with me ever since the injury. It’s hard at times. I’ve gone through depression. I still have to consciously resist that urge to think that life is over for me and instead focus on new possibilities. The good things in my life. The things that I can do.”

Daniel credits Shepherd Center with helping him reorient his thinking.

“I made big strides in occupational, physical, and speech therapy there,” Daniel says. “But what impressed me was they went above and beyond in so many ways emotionally. Everyone at Shepherd Center just cared so intensely and spent the time with me that I needed.”

“Everybody was super positive at a time when it’s so easy to be super negative,” Sierra explains.

Daniel spent three months in Shepherd Center’s inpatient Comprehensive  Rehabilitation Unit, learning adaptations to regain physical independence. He followed that up with two pivotal months at Shepherd Pathways, a comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injuries.

Daniel’s stroke had resulted in severe aphasia, affecting his ability to express and understand both written and spoken language. Those would be serious concerns for anyone, but especially for someone who loved reading and writing and had just completed a year of law school.

Daniel credits the cognitive improvements he made at Pathways for pushing him to where he is today. He can easily engage in conversation now, and his reading is up to a fifth-grade level. New career avenues open each day.

In the meantime, Daniel and Sierra are building their life together anew. The couple has moved back to their hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they’re looking at houses. They’re talking about kids. And they’re figuring out how to get back into camping and other outdoor adventures — including a return trip to Iceland to replace old memories with brighter ones.

Above all, they’re thankful for this second chance to be newlyweds.

“When we got home from Iceland, a lot of people encouraged us to do Danny’s rehabilitation somewhere close to where we were living in Virginia, or back home in New Mexico,” Sierra says. “But we wanted to get the best care possible, no matter where that took us. We’re so grateful that the opportunity opened up, and we chose to make the journey to Shepherd Center. It was the home away from home that we needed.”

Written by Phillip Jordan

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About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.