The Army parachutist had jumped out of airplanes at night, done three tours in Afghanistan, one in Kuwait and served in Korea and Colombia.
Jandl Scott had joined the Army at 19, sacrificing a chance to go to college.
Close buddies had gotten killed in combat and Jandl had lined up far too many times over 20 years to salute service members as they headed home in flag-draped caskets.
Despite all the danger he faced, Jandl, now 41, never suffered a scratch overseas.
Then, back home last April, stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Jandl decided to go into his office on a Saturday morning to get a little extra work done. A first sergeant, nearly the highest rank for an enlisted soldier, he supervised 250 young people and liked getting paperwork done early or on weekends so he could keep his door open and check up on his folks.
Jandl was minutes from arriving safely at his desk when disaster struck.
He was driving his black Dodge Durango around a curve on a two-lane stretch of East 6th Avenue near Tower Road. It was 8:01 a.m. Suddenly, a silver Hyundai full of teens who had been out all night, crossed into Jandl’s lane and crashed head-on into his car. He saw the car for just a second and tried to yank his steering wheel to the right. But there was nothing he could do.
Veterans among us: saluting our service members
View all the stories:
The Hyundai slammed into him going more than 70 miles per hour. Jandl had been going about 50, so the combined impact speed was 125 miles per hour. Cushioned by air bags and strapped into his seat belt, Jandl stayed in the Durango as it spun and flipped, landing back on its wheels.
He doesn’t remember the crash or flying through the air. He came to and gulped for air.
“I woke up scared. There was broken glass and metal everywhere. I tried to get out, but the door wouldn’t open. Luckily, the car wasn’t on fire,” Jandl said.
His training kicked in and he started assessing the situation.
“I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got a little blood, but I think I’m OK.’ Then I went to move my right leg and that’s when the pain set in.”
Jandl reached down and felt something protruding out of his leg.
“Oh man. That’s bone,” he thought to himself.
All he could do was wait for help.
A crew from the Aurora Fire Department was first on scene.
“Hey, are you OK?” one of them asked Jandl.
He was wearing civilian clothes since it was a Saturday. He gave the first responders a quick, thorough update.
“I’m military. I have TRICARE. I’m not allergic to anything. I have a broken bone and an open fracture. My blood type is B positive. I probably have a concussion. But my leg is the big thing.”
As paramedics worked to extract Jandl, he looked over and saw that the young people in the other car were in terrible shape. None had been wearing seatbelts. Jandl later learned that the driver died on impact. A passenger sleeping in the back was ejected and died soon after arriving at the hospital. The passenger in the front seat survived. All were close in age to Jandl’s son Brandon, who was 18 at the time. Their deaths would haunt Jandl, just like the Army buddies he had lost.
“It could have been me. It could have been Brandon,” he thought to himself.
But he had survived. And though he hadn’t been in a war that morning, Jandl now faced one of the biggest battles of his life. Helping him was a team of doctors, nurses and physical therapists from UCHealth’s University of Colorado Hospital who refused to let Jandl lose a leg or lose hope.
‘A huge sacrifice’
Jandl grew up in Alabama and Georgia. He split his time between his young mom, who wasn’t ready to be a parent, and loving foster grandparents who could only care for him when they worked it out with his mom.
Jandl never met his father and his mom bounced from place to place as she struggled to get by with three young kids. By the time Jandl was in high school, he almost had lost count of the number of apartments he’d called home. He was a good student, but every move chipped away at his GPA.
As a young teen, he always worked. He was a busboy at a restaurant near the famed golf course in Augusta, Georgia that barred African Americans like him from joining. He helped maintain and paint rental homes and stocked groceries. The hours crawled as he loaded food on shelves, but Jandl played tricks with his mind. He’d look at the clock early in the morning. Then he wouldn’t look again for a while. He purposely guessed that hardly any time had passed. Then he’d look up and be happy to know that it was a little later than he expected. Learning to put a positive spin on struggles came in handy many years later as he fought to recover from the debilitating car accident.
Jandl played football, basketball and ran track in high school. A man from a small college in Kentucky was interested in recruiting him as a defensive lineman for their football team, but he didn’t want to live in Kentucky and no one pushed him to grab the opportunity. A friend was going to Alabama State University and encouraged Jandl to talk with a counselor there.
He also went to see a military recruiter, who convinced him to enlist in the Army.
Days before he was slated to leave for basic training, Jandl received an acceptance letter from Alabama State. He called the recruiter back and asked if he could delay his enlistment. The response sounded like a line from a bad movie.
“Sorry son,” the recruiter said. “You’re in the Army now.”
Jandl headed out for basic training. Of all places, he got sent to Kentucky.
Those first weeks were full of brutal workouts and mental mind games, but Jandl put his trademark positive spin on things.
“I looked at it as exercise and I was competitive.”
After eight weeks, he got his first leave and called his high school girlfriend. She broke the news that she was pregnant. Barely out on his own, Jandl now was going to be a father.
He decided to be the kind of dad he never had.
“I wanted to break the cycle and be different. That’s what pushed me through basic training,” he said.
His role models were his foster grandfather and Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the attentive African American TV dad that Bill Cosby made famous.
Jandl and Brandon’s mom didn’t get married until many years later, but Jandl supported both of them and doted on Brandon whenever he got leave. When Brandon was a baby, Jandl loved taking him to visit his foster family in Tuskegee, Ala. By the time he was a teenager, the two were bonding over basketball and video games.
Jandl served first in Korea, then in Kuwait. He returned home and volunteered to go to Airborne School, where he learned to jump out of airplanes.
“I was scared, but back then, we were averaging about $9.66 an hour,” Jandl said.
The pay for parachutists was a little higher and he had a family to support, so off he went.
“All that wind is blowing in your face and you just go. The night jumps were the hardest.”
Jandl never had to jump in combat. He worked as a gunner, manning a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and he worked in military intelligence and force protection during three tours in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2012.
Serving in the military gave him stability.
“It was a means for me to take care of my son,” he said.
But the losses were tough. About half a dozen close friends died in combat, including a 34-year-old father of two named Kyu Chay. He had survived a tour in Iraq and was on patrol in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb blew up and killed him.
“We were at Fort Bragg together. He supported the Special Forces,” Jandl said. “He was a caring individual. He tried to sympathize and understand people around him. I learned a lot from him, especially patience. That one was really heartbreaking. But they’re all heartbreaking.”
When people thank him for his service, Jandl thanks them for caring.
But, he thinks few people understand all that service members endure.
“It’s a huge sacrifice,” he said.
Jandl has now served in the Army for 21 years. Two months after the car crash, he was due to report to Miami, where he would be up for a promotion to the highest level he could attain. After reaching the pinnacle for enlisted soldiers, he planned to retire and settle down in one place, a luxury he had craved since childhood.
“This is the tenth place I’ve lived in 21 years. I wanted (a stable home) after not having it with my mom.”
Jandl returned from his last tour in Afghanistan late in 2012 and soon after that received orders to move to Colorado. In 2013, he married Brandon’s mom and they settled into a home on a cul-de-sac in Aurora. Brandon had done his first two years of high school in Florida and moved to Cherokee Trail High School for his last two.
“I wanted to give him something he never had, that family environment with both parents there, eating dinner at the table together and supporting him in sports,” Jandl said.
Life in Colorado was calm and happy until that April morning. The accident shattered Jandl’s leg, but he refused to let it destroy his spirit.
‘We’re in the business of saving limbs’
Jandl’s leg wasn’t just broken. It was destroyed. Along with fractures in multiple places, he had lost a great deal of bone. One of his ICU doctors delivered devastating news. He thought Jandl would need an amputation.
Jandl consulted with one of the hospital chaplains, who advocated for him.
“This is one of the toughest individuals I know,” the chaplain said. “He’s jumped out of airplanes. He has served our country.”
Still, the ICU doctor offered little hope: “I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do.”
That night, as Jandl pondered losing his leg and read in news stories that two of the young people in the other car had died, he wept. Then, he got busy trying to accept his new reality.
The next morning, he was stunned when a fresh team of orthopedic experts arrived in his room.
“How are you doing?” one of the doctors asked as he updated students on Jandl’s injury.
Jandl nervously listened for a word he didn’t want to hear. Finally, he asked the doctor, “So you’re not amputating?”
“No, most definitely not,” the doctor told him.
“We’re in the business of saving limbs.”
Jandl was now part of UCHealth’s Limb Restoration Program.
And an entire team of experts was ready to help him get back on his feet. They didn’t want him jumping out of airplanes any time soon. But, they were eager to repair his leg, help him walk and eventually get him back on the basketball court with Brandon.
Dr. Jason Stoneback is a complex limb reconstruction specialist, an assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and director of the Limb Restoration Program, a team of interdisciplinary experts that jumps in when a patient is coping with complicated problems or is at high risk for amputation.
Every week, about a dozen doctors, advanced practice providers, nurses and physical therapists meets to map out treatment strategies for patients like Jandl.
“They’re the best and the brightest out-of-the-box thinkers in each of their respective fields. It’s very collaborative and the power of the program is the team-based approach,” Stoneback said. “Twelve heads are better than one.”
The team includes experts on orthopedics, complex limb reconstruction, plastic surgery, vascular surgery, vascular and radiology interventionalists, infectious disease, wound care and rehabilitation.
They were eager to step up for Jandl.
“This gentleman had served our country and been in very dangerous situations. Then, here at home is where he faces his most serious injuries,” Stoneback said. “We were happy that we could be there to help him.”
Stoneback performed post-traumatic reconstruction surgeries including bone grafts after Jandl lost about two inches of bone from his accident.
“The bone had come out of the skin. Some of it was crushed in the accident, some lost in the car and some of the bone was not alive,” Stoneback said.
Jandl also was dealing with a problem called compartment syndrome. In an injury like he suffered, pressure can build up in parts of the leg that can cause nerve and muscle death.
Altogether, Jandl has had 6 surgeries.
Kristin Loker, a nurse practitioner, and Lauren Lewis, a nurse, are both with the Limb Restoration Program. They have seen Jandl frequently for follow-up care. He always shows up with a smile.
“He is an amazing patient. He has a great outlook,” Loker said. “He always rolls with the punches. He’s an active guy and he was ready to get back to work. It was refreshing.”
Jandl spent 13 days in the hospital and went home in a wheelchair. Thanks to his many friends and large military family, Jandl had plenty of support. But he didn’t like asking for help. He lives in a two-story home and he and his wife figured out the best way for him to get up the stairs. He’d leave one wheelchair on the first floor, crawl out of it, then sit on the stairs and hoist himself up backwards one step at a time. They left a second wheelchair upstairs. Once he made it to the top of the stairs, Jandl would climb into the other wheelchair. It was a humbling struggle for a man who had been an athlete all his life.
To cope with the pain from the injury and surgeries, Jandl had been prescribed several pain medications. After 33 days, he was frustrated that he didn’t feel like himself. He’d grown a full beard and had lost considerable weight. He decided it was time to wean himself off everything but occasional Tylenol pills. To handle the pain and get off the pills, he played games with his mind, like he had when he was a stock boy. He was supposed to take oxycodone every four hours, but he tried stretching to every eight hours, then every 12. Then, eventually, he gave it up altogether.
After three months, he worked his way out of the wheelchair and started using a walker. Then he graduated to a cane. Throughout his recovery, he has continued to work at Buckley as much as possible. Two months ago he got rid of the cane.
When pain creeps up on him, Jandl uses ice and tries not to dwell on it.
Instead, he focuses on his good fortune.
“There are always blessings. I have guardian angels,” he said.
Stoneback is convinced that Jandl will heal 100 percent. He knows his patient is still dealing with pain, but he expects that to keep getting better.
“He has such severe trauma that it’s going to take some time,” Stoneback said. “We expect him to make a full recovery. We hope he’ll be able to do anything he wants.
“That’s what all this is about: restoration of his optimal life.”
Recently, Jandl has started playing basketball again. Back when he jumped out of planes, Jandl was careful about how he landed. He’s the same way now on the court. He’s a little careful with his right leg.
But, he gets a great sense of freedom as he dribbles, runs and makes shots.
“I’m getting there,” he said.
In addition to basketball, he works out hard on a stationery bike and does long sessions walking at an incline on a treadmill. Soon, he’s hoping to hike up the steep railroad bed outside Colorado Springs. It’s called the Manitou Incline and climbs nearly 2,000 vertical feet in less than a mile.
As Jandl thinks of his future, he’s planning to retire from the military soon. Through all his moves and over more than two decades, Jandl saved the acceptance letter he received from Alabama State. Now, he’s considering dusting it off and finally embracing the chance to go to college.
Wherever he lands, Jandl already has military friends all over the world.
And he’s convinced that he survived the crash to do more good.
“I’m here for a reason. I still have more work to do.”