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Lowville man paralyzed in 2001 hunting accident hasn’t slowed down

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LOWVILLE — There was a time when friends and family of Lucas J. “Luke” Sweredoski didn’t know if he was going to live.

It was Dec. 9, 2001, when the then-16-year-old suffered a gunshot wound to the chest in a hunting accident in the town of Harrisburg and was flown to Upstate Medical University, Syracuse.

His parents, Karl W. and Diana L. Sweredoski, Lowville, recalled that during the agonizing helicopter ride, they knew at the very least he would be paralyzed.

“We knew then,” Mrs. Sweredoski said. “We knew by the injury, where he’d been shot. We knew.”

What they didn’t know was whether their son would make it through the flight.

He survived the trip, but remained in a coma. The days added up, until more than two weeks passed.

In what some might describe as a miracle or a gift, Mr. Sweredoski woke up from the coma on Christmas morning.

He remembers that day.

“I was hungrier than hell,” he said. One of his first concerns, he recalled, was, “Where’s the food?”

Mr. Sweredoski lost a dramatic amount of weight while he lay unresponsive in critical condition. He estimates he weighed about 130 pounds before the accident. He weighed only 65 pounds when he woke up.

With many surgeries and physical therapy to endure, he faced eight more months in the hospital. Two of those months were spent at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.

While he healed, attended therapy and adjusted to life without the use of his legs, Mr. Sweredoski also kept up with his schoolwork.

“I had a teacher come to the hospital. That caught me up,” he said, so that he could complete his freshman year of high school.

He was able to stay on task and graduate with his classmates from Lowville Academy and Central School in 2005.

While such an injury might have been insurmountable for others, Mr. Sweredoski doesn’t appear to have slowed down.

He reports to his full-time job at Otis Technology, Lyons Falls, and manages to work seasonally operating a hay mower at Demko Farms in Lowville.

“We’d have him here year-round if we could, but we don’t mow in the winter,” said Jean M. Demko.

Mr. Sweredoski has been working at the farm for 10 years. Watching him mow is nothing less than impressive; he sits atop a mower model that is the world’s largest — a German-made machine with a 50-foot cutting span.

“We call him King of the Crops,” Mrs. Demko said.

“I’ve got the biggest mower. I should be called that,” he joked.

While Mr. Sweredoski requires some help getting up the six steep steps and into the seat, he operates the mower without assistance by using hand controls for all operations.

His personal pickup truck operates with hand controls as well. He used the truck this summer to lead marchers in the Lewis County Fair parade to support Daniel R. King in his bid for county judge.

At his home, where he can drive his truck into the garage and use an interior wheelchair ramp, the Sweredoskis have created an environment that affords independence. The house features wide hallways and doorways, low counters and an elevator.

Mr. Sweredoski remains active outside, too. Perhaps surprising to some, he is active in the sport that nearly killed him. He continues to hunt in the area, but a trip to Michigan in October earned him 11- and 20-point bucks.

His father was there by his side when he took down both bucks.

“Oh, it was incredible, to share that with my son,” the elder Mr. Sweredoski said. “We’d never done anything like that, that kind of a trip.”

The Michigan trip, which carried a price tag of approximately $30,000, was made possible by Henderson Harbor residents David and Kathryn Lang Irwin, whose son died suddenly in August 2011 at the age of 34.

“It was a gift to Luke in memory of their son, Darrin,” the elder Mr. Sweredoski said.

“I didn’t hunt, but it really was a gift for me, too,” his father said. “To have those memories with a father and son — there’s really nothing like it.”

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