A young Deer Lodge race car driver who was critically injured the evening of Sept. 1 is making steady “baby step” progress toward recovery.
On Tuesday, Sept. 18, Kenneth "KJ" Hunter underwent four and a half hours of facial reconstruction surgery that doctors said went well. He will have another surgery in a few weeks and perhaps a couple of minor ones after he has healed.
Since Sept. 21, he has made progress in sitting, standing and walking with assistance, eating, and talking – some of it making sense and other times “very interesting to listen to.” He stays awake longer during the day and sleeps well at night.
KJ was moved out of ICU to acute care last Sunday. He has started physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions this week and is working hard to make progress. His appetite is coming back, and if you know KJ, the hospital meals are not big enough!
When his brother, Rodney, walked into the hospital room this week, KJ greeted him with a wise crack and they bantered with each other.
KJ loves to ride in a big wheel chair, and especially enjoys sitting on the sky bridge where he can see the sky, mountains in the distance and the city. Originally, there was concern that his optic nerve was damaged, but it was not.
One of his first doctors at Harborview saw him sitting there this week and said, “This is incredible. What progress he’s made from when we first got him here.”
His parents say they “feel all the prayers.” “We are feeling so blessed, and continue to pray for him every day. Thank you for all of your prayers too!” Many cards have been received that all of them enjoy reading together and then use to decorate his room.
His dad, Marty said, “There will be extensive rehab when he’s discharged from the hospital, but the time frame for leaving the hospital and rehab will depend on KJ.”
Kenneth “KJ” Hunter, 27, is a member of a long-time car racing family. He has been racing cars since 2008 winning the 2013 and 2014 championships. At the time of his accident, he was fifth in points for 2018 in a very competitive modified class.
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In 2017, he built a modified car #68 and at the time of the accident was working on the car’s transmission in a shop at the family home preparing for the season’s final big race at Gallatin Speedway in Belgrade. About 6:30 p.m. the car fell from a bumper jack causing serious head and facial injuries, but somehow he managed to crawl out from under the car by himself.
His mother, Lisa, rushed him to the Deer Lodge Medical Center a few blocks away where he was treated in the emergency room for 45 minutes until Life Flight flew him to St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula. He underwent surgery that night to remove bone shards from his brain and to repair some of the damage.
The night of Tuesday, Sept. 4, KJ was transferred by plane to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after a bed in the trauma unit became available. He made the trip well and underwent surgery Wednesday to remove blood clots in the brain and compensate for swelling.
Throughout the ordeal KJ was heavily sedated with pain medications and antibiotics. It wasn’t until Sept. 13 that KJ opened his eyes for the first time, blinked and nodded his head. His family was elated as he squeezed the hands of his parents on either side of the bed.
Racing Family and Fans Pull Together
Cards can be sent to: Harborview Medical Center, Attn. Kenneth Hunter, 325 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104-2499
A medical fund for Kenneth Hunter has been established at Peoples Bank, P.O. Box 599. Deer Lodge, MT 59722
Also a GoFundMe account at: www.gofundme.com/medical-benefit-fund-for-kj-hunter
A medical benefit will be held Saturday, October 6 at the Blue Ribbon Pavilion on the fairgrounds in Deer Lodge starting at 5 p.m. with a pork dinner served at 6 p.m. Many items have been donated for the silent and live auctions including: beef, two Labrador puppies, Seattle Mariners tickets, cut firewood and much more. There will be music, and other activities during the evening as well. For more information and auction donations call: Tom Curran 406-560-3345.