The Sandoval County sheriff is recovering from a broken back, keeping track of happenings at the office and planning to go back to work as soon as he can.
Tuesday, Sheriff Jesse James Casaus was doing in-patient rehabilitation.
“I’m walking now with a walker,” he said. “Still a lot of pain.”
Casaus said he was mountain-biking alone on Strip Mine Trail in Placitas on May 14 when the accident happened. He was going downhill fast, veered off the trail and tried to ramp over a rock to get back on the path.
Instead, the bike slammed to an immediate stop on the rock, whipping the sheriff’s upper body forward so forcefully while his lower body was more anchored that it fractured a vertebra. He also fell off the bike, breaking a rib.
He crawled over to his backpack to get his phone and called Chief Deputy Allen Mills, who lives in Placitas.
Mills said the call came just before 10 a.m. Casaus told Mills he fell and might need help walking his bike out of the trail area.
“So I didn’t know how injured he was,” Mills said.
Mills headed to the sheriff’s location. Meanwhile, two hikers and another mountain biker came across Casaus and stopped to help.
Not knowing he had loose pieces of bone in his back, Casaus instructed the passers-by to help him stand and then, when he couldn’t manage standing, to sit up. With his movement, the pieces of bone could have punctured his spinal cord.
“The surgeon told me it was literally a miracle I wasn’t paralyzed,” Casaus said.
Mills arrived about 10:40 a.m.
“When I got there, I knew he needed an ambulance,” Mills said.
The sheriff was lying on the ground, chatting with the hikers and mountain biker, but had come to the same conclusion. Mills called county Fire Chief Eric Masterson, who had an emergency medical crew meet Mills at the intersection of Rainbow Valley Road and Nighthawk Way in Placitas.
The crew arrived quickly. However, figuring out the best way for the crew to get to Casaus, a quarter-mile away, took considerable time.
Mills said he and the EMS crew reached the sheriff again about 11:25 a.m. Then, it took about half an hour to transport him on a wheeled gurney back to the ambulance.
Casaus underwent surgery to fuse the broken vertebra with the two vertebrae above and below it.
“The surgeon says he does these surgeries on football players all the time, and they eventually go back to playing football,” Casaus said.
He’s doing physical therapy and has been told he won’t suffer long-term effects from the injury as long as he prioritizes core and leg strength in his workouts and is careful.
“I’m sure I’ll be altered a little bit, but nothing I can’t work around,” Casaus said.
He expected to be sent home Sunday. He isn’t working but checks in with Mills and Undersheriff Joe Gonzales.
“They’re doing a good job of holding the fort down, so I don’t worry too much,” Casaus said.
He expects to start going into the office “little by little” as he heals and has less pain. He’s running for re-election but has no opponent in the primary.
Casaus said he’d hit the campaign trail in August.
“I’ll be back to being (the residents’) sheriff in no time,” he said. “… I’m looking forward to a full recovery and coming back even stronger.”