Dennis Borland, 54, will proudly show you the video of his first time back on the ice, nine months after a motorcycle accident took his lower left leg. He takes a few shuffles onto the rink and down he goes. But he gets up — over and over — because not skating again has never been an option.
Borland’s story is one of determination and grit. But as he tells it, it’s a story about how a perfect stranger saved his life. Borland has a tremendous appreciation for his medical care team but if it weren’t for the quick action of a stranger who knew how to put on a tourniquet and the philanthropy of blood donors, he may not have lived. And he wouldn’t be on the ice, working hard to get up again.
The day he needed help from so many strangers
Borland didn’t get into hockey until he was almost 30, but it’s been his passion ever since. He started inline skating then joined the Fort Collins Pond Hockey League. The members are his second family. Before the accident, Borland hit the ice several times a week to skate, or drop in on other teams to see if they needed a goalie.
His wife, Jennifer, made him a deal: He could play as much as he wanted as long as he only participated in one league that cost money.
Borland doesn’t remember much about hockey practice the morning of July 20, 2019, but after a scramble on the ice with others in his league, Borland put on his motorcycle leathers and helmet, got on his 2017 Heritage Softail, and started heading the 20-plus miles to his Johnstown, Colorado home to get Jennifer. It was a beautiful summer day and the couple planned to ride out to Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park.
Borland was on Highway 60 near Interstate 25 when a vehicle struck his motorcycle on the left side. The impact crushed his hip, shattered his femur and tossed him 70 feet from his motorcycle. The first thing he remembers hearing is a stranger telling him he was going to put a tourniquet on his leg.
“I know what color pain is — it’s white. All I could see was white,” Borland said, as he recalled the accident more than two years later. “I remember thinking: I need to wake up.”
When police arrived, they replaced the stranger’s tourniquet with their own. Borland heard the officers tell him how the stranger’s actions had prevented fatal blood loss.
Borland was transported to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies, and just as he relied on the kindness of that stranger to stop his bleeding, he was reliant at the hospital on the kindness of blood donors to replenish what he’d lost.
Trauma patients and blood donors
Over the next two days, Borland received about seven units of blood (the body holds about 10.5 units) during an hours-long surgery in which doctors set his hip and amputated his left leg below the knee.
Blood products needed for trauma patients, surgical patients and those with blood disorders or chronic illnesses such as cancer in northern Colorado come from donors through UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Donation Center.
Blood donated through UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Donation Centers helps patients at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, UCHealth Greeley Hospital, UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont, and Estes Park Health.
“When you donate blood, you never know who you are going to help,” Borland said. “It could be your best friend, or it could be you.”
Getting back on the ice with a prosthetic
Borland spent six days in the ICU and a total of 10 days at the hospital before he moved to an inpatient rehabilitation center. Within a week, he was ready to go home. Then, he received in-home rehabilitation care two to three times a week.
“I was determined to be back playing hockey by Christmas,” Borland said. “Little did I know I wouldn’t even walk again until Thanksgiving.”
He learned how to navigate in a wheelchair and on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, he got his first prosthetic leg.
“It took time for me to work on my balance,” he said. “It’s quite the learning curve. I had never used these things (walker and cane) before.”
After the holidays, resolute in his desire to return to the ice, Borland strapped on his skates and stood back on the ice again — for about two seconds – on Feb. 4.
“I fell — but I got right back up,” he said, showing the video below on his phone.
He worked in the gym to get stronger and eventually grew stronger standing on the ice. Recently, he donned his goalie pads and subbed-in as goalie for a team that was down a man. In no time, he stopped a shot on goal.
“I made the save, but I couldn’t get back up,” he said. “It made me realize what I need to work on, skating and leg strength — that’s my New Year’s goal, that I’ll be skating full time as close as I can.”
Recovery is hard and challenging
Borland has always enjoyed physical labor and outside activity. His new limitations are frustrating, but he credits his friends and family for getting him through and helping him keep his positive attitude.
“They tell me I’m an inspiration, but it was them — my friends who were pulling me forward,” Borland said. “I can’t change this — I have to deal with it. I’ve got to go forward, but friends help you so much in that way.”
His friends are now trying to help others. On Dec. 11, 2021, the Fort Collins Pond Hockey League, led by David “Bike” Beichley, is hosting a mobile blood drive to help others who may need blood products. FCPHL teamed up with Odell Brewing Company to provide each donor with a goodie basket.
It is more important than ever to donate blood during the holiday months, said Bridget Aesoph, donor recruiter for Garth Englund Blood Donation Center.
“During this season of giving, the best gift you can give is to save a life,” she said. “Blood donations are always needed but the holiday season is a challenging time because people’s focus is elsewhere, but our need for blood products continues.”
This article was first published Nov. 17, 2021.