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Heartland hunter walks again after falling from tree stand

Updated: Nov. 16, 2019 at 1:05 AM CST
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MALDEN, Mo. (KFVS) - A Heartland hunter is opening up about his miraculous recovery after falling from a tree stand. He feels lucky to be alive and is encouraging others hunters to prepare for the worst.

Mike Vipperman teaches at Malden High School and has been hunting deer for about 14 years, and he was excited to bag his first buck during bow season.

He woke up early on Saturday September 21 and started climbing the same hang-on tree stand he has used hundreds of times when something went horribly wrong.

“I have some pegs that screw into the tree and I put all of my weight on my left leg, the peg came out of the tree and it happened so fast I couldn’t recover. I had nothing to hang on to," Vipperman said. “The only thing I remember is falling in darkness 18 feet down and when I hit the ground I knew I broke my back. You could feel it.”

Vipperman said he could barely breath or feel his legs, but had enough strength to reach for his cell phone and call his family.

“My wife woke my 9-year-old son up and he was able to lead first responders and everybody to the tree stand. He is pretty much my hero,” Vipperman said. “I couldn’t really see the help coming. All I could do was hear them getting there and the helicopter landing. You know all of that happened within about 40 minutes.”

At a hospital in St. Louis, doctors told Vipperman that he might never walk again, but after a successful spinal surgery that added two 10 inch rods and 13 screws to Vipperman’s back he said he regained feeling in his feet.

With the help of many physical therapists he’s been moving forward every since.

“Everyday there would be something that would just I say come alive. I’d be able to move my left leg, or I’d be able to move my right leg," Vipperman said. "When I got to the point where I could walk again it was like, ‘Yes!’ Now I am ready to go back to school. I am ready to go back and be a pastor. It’s like everybody was put in place to be able to get to where I am right now.”

Students at Malden High School welcomed Vipperman back to town during their homecoming pep rally in October and he said it was a big motivational step in his continued recovery.

“It moved me because I got to see all of the kids who sent me letters and card about how much they’re praying,” Vipperman said. “And I got to walk into that gym on a walker and all these kids were saying ‘Coach Vipp, Coach Vipp!’ It brought me to tears.”

Vipperman added that many churches and communities across Southeast Missouri also reached out to his family in support.

“They raised thousands of dollars of a shirt fundraiser you know just by people coming together. It’s just really been a blessing,” he said.

Vipperman wants other hunters to take tree stand safety seriously, and learn from his mistakes.

“Just because a stand was in good shape last season, doesn’t mean it’s in good shape this season,” Vipperman said. "Don’t be in a hurry. Make sure you go through the routine of checking everything out. Those three points of contact when you are going up your stand that is huge. I’ll personally never hunt in a stand again. I want to be in a blind but if I had to give advice, wear a harness. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Staff with the Missouri Department of Conservation also suggest telling someone you trust the location of your tree stand and to also carry a whistle, flashlight and first aid kit during the hunt.

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