Alfreda Forshee met Jeff Kidd a little more than a year ago, and the two have become like family, a brother and sister who look forward to each other’s company and get to visit almost every day. But it’s a relationship both wish had never come to be.
Not quite two years ago, Kidd, 54, who worked in the cutting department of a Baldwyn furniture plant, finished a week on the job and headed for his favorite hunting ground, land he had known by heart for most of a lifetime. Three miles deep into the woods of the Talla-hatchie River bottom, on a swath of federal land that lies between New Albany and Oxford east of Sardis Lake, Kidd routinely found himself at home.
“It’s very rugged,” he said. “It’s three miles in, but it would take you an hour to ride to on a four-wheeler.”
On Fridays during deer season, Kidd would work until midday, then go to the woods. There, he would camp and hunt until early Sunday morning, when he would return to his community in time for services at Little Creek Baptist Church. That first weekend of December in 2014 included a full moon, so Kidd opted to cut his last morning hunt short and head home, and so climbed down out of his ladder stand.
“I had dropped the seat cushion out of the stand while I was hunting so, when I got down, I decided to get back up there and replace the cushion,” he said.
During this errand, while Kidd was halfway between earth and sky, the ladder broke, falling in toward the tree. Kidd, climbing without a harness or safety restraint, did his best to hang on.
“I rode the stand down towards the tree,” he said, “but I lost my grip and fell backwards. I only fell nine or 10 feet to the ground. I could have fallen from that distance a million times and it never would have hurt me whatsoever, but that one time I hit just right on the back of my neck.”
He was instantly paralyzed from the chest down.
“Usually, I would have left my cell phone on the four wheeler to keep charged, but my hands flopped down on my pants pocket and I knew I had my cell phone with me,” he said. “I was able to get two texts out before my battery was completely dead, and that’s what saved my life.”
He was able to reach his son, who got the rescue efforts started.
“Without that, I’d have laid in the woods two or three days before anyone would have had an idea I was missing,” he said. “It’s government land, open to the public but, I hunted so far away from any human activity, no one would have found me in time.”
Rescuers brought a boat up the Tallahatchie River and transported him back to Graham Lake Landing, then flew him on a helicopter to The Med in Memphis where doctors confirmed what he already knew. He’d broken his neck, damaged his spinal cord and would likely be paralyzed for the rest of his life. He spent a month in Memphis before being transferred to The Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
“They start you there like you’re a newborn kid,” he said, “learning over again how to live life.”
Once he was able to return home to Marietta, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services was able to assign a provider to care for him.
Today, Alfreda Forshee drives back and forth from Verona five days a week, seeing after Kidd from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“He’s a good Christian man,” Forshee said. “He’s honest and a pleasure to take care of. He has a good heart, and so much willpower to get up and go. I’ve never seen him down.”
Kidd has received support and encouragement from his church family and community, and from his son Tyler who he says has put his own life on hold to care for him.
From home construction projects to meals cooked in their kitchens and delivered hot and fresh, members of his church and community continue to provide assistance on a regular basis for countless needs large and small. Further, the full-time assistance he receives from the state Department of Rehabilitation Services allows him to live on his own.
“We started providing services right after he came out of the Shepherd Center,” Kim White, the department’s district manager, said. “We modified his house. We also did some modifications to a vehicle and provided him with a personal care attendant. We do anything we can to help him be as independent as possible.”
Still, that independence has its limits. The outdoors still call to Kidd and, thanks in large part to great sections of his own hunting time given over the years to help others, returned favors allow him to continue to go. A big part of the motivation he finds there comes from the opportunity to help others yet. He teaches as he once did, by example, though an example now of another kind.
“My accident was 110 percent preventable,” Kidd says. “A 50-year-old who’d hunted from the time he was raised up? The world of hunting has totally changed from what it was 40 years ago. They stress safety more than anything else but, take somebody older like me, they don’t comprehend what the people talking about safety are saying, or they just don’t listen.
“The ladder stand I was hunting in came with safety belts, but did I use the safety belts? No, they’re still in the packaging they came in out in my storage room. We feel we can do it all ourselves, and that something like this won’t happen to us. Until it does.”
In the areas where treestands are commonly used, falls from them have generally become the most common type of hunting accident.
“It turns out that 86 percent of all treestand falls happen in transition,” says Jay Everett, with Hunter Safety System. “L.J. Smith Investigations, the company that investigates the majority of hunting accidents in the nation, finds that in 82 percent of treestand falls, the hunters were wearing a harness at the time, just one that wasn’t connected to the tree when they fell.”
Everett’s company and others offer safety harnesses and associated climbing equipment which keep a hunter connected from the time they leave the ground until they’re safely back down. It is for use with every variety of treestand. Most such equipment is priced in the $50 to $100 range, one of the most affordable pieces of outdoor gear.
“We are a business and we’re selling these, yes,” Everett said, “but the mission here is mostly one of safety. If you don’t buy ours, buy somebody’s.”