ORLANDO, Fla. – Pro wakeboarder Brad Smeele, 28, went from doing complicated back flips and turns on a Central Florida lake to facing paralysis from the neck down in the intensive care unit at an Orlando hospital.
Friends said Smeele was attempting a first-of-its-kind trick July 6 when he had a rough landing. On his next attempt, something went terribly wrong: He didn't complete a flip and crash-landed on a ramp headfirst.
"It was the worst possible way to fall. He had his arms out in front of him but he landed head and neck," said Smeele's best friend and competitor, Jeff Weatherall.
Smeele, a New Zealand-native, now needs help breathing and is fighting pneumonia, all while facing a harsh prognosis from doctors -- that he only has a 1 to 2 percent chance he'll even be able to move his upper body again.
That prognosis hasn't stopped hundreds from believing in him, according to Weatherall. Weatherall said an online campaign to raise money for Smeele's medical expenses has raised tens of thousands. He said Smeele is optimistic, too.
Weatherall said after doctors treat Smeele's pneumonia, they hope to move him to a hospital in Colorado, where he'll receive care from world-renowned experts on spinal injuries.
Smeele's brother, Alex Smeele, told Local 6 every moment of the phone call alerting him of Brad's accident is crystal clear.
"As soon as I heard my mom's voice I knew something was wrong," said Alex Smeele.
Alex Smeele flew in from London and is here to support his brother, along with his mom who made the trip from New Zealand. He said if anyone can turn a bleak prognosis into a miracle, it's his brother.
"It may be the toughest competition that he's ever won, but he's going to win it," he said. "A 1 to 2 percent chance for Brad is better than a 50 percent chance for most of us."
Once Brad Smeele's medical expenses and recovery are paid for, his family hopes to raise funds to support others with spinal injuries.
To donate to Brad Smeele's medical expenses click here.