The Journey Home

Posted 3/19/09


Bobby Model, who is back in Cody after suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2007, gestures to a selection of his photos on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Tribune photo by Carla Wensky

Bobby …

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The Journey Home


{gallery}03_17_09/model{/gallery}Writer Michael McRae accompanied Bobby Model to the Republic of Burundi, a small country in eastern Africa, in 2005. The two were collaborating on a story for National Geographic Adventure. While in Burundi, Michael shot this image of Bobby photographing tribal drummers. Courtesy photo /Michael McRae One man's story of strength has touched those around him (Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series on Bobby Model's recovery.)Striking photos — of ice climbers, rodeos and a Yellowstone winter — line a downstairs wall at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. A man — the photographer — points to one of the images, confirming the location of the scene, adding that it was well below zero on the day the shot was taken.That's nothing extraordinary, in and of itself. However, this particular photographer, who gestures to his work from a wheelchair, nearly died in 2007.

Bobby Model, who is back in Cody after suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2007, gestures to a selection of his photos on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Tribune photo by Carla Wensky

Bobby Model, a Cody native and a respected mountain climber, spent his time traveling the world as an adventure photographer for publications such as National Geographic. From the Rocky Mountain West, to Pakistan, the Sudan, Iran and all points in between — he used photos to document the lives, adventures and plights of people around the globe.

But in June 2007, while on vacation with his sister, Faith, in South Africa, the then 34-year-old Model was hit in the head by a chunk of concrete thrown through the windshield of their vehicle. (This kind of random violence is not uncommon in South Africa, and, according to Bobby's father, no one has ever been arrested for the crime.)

Bobby was first treated for his massive head injury in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Cape Town, but doctors weren't optimistic about his survival. After about a month, though still in a coma, he was stable enough to be moved by jet to a hospital in New York City. Bobby began to ease back into consciousness in August. He spent several more months in New York before moving once again, this time to Craig Hospital in Denver, a center that specializes in rehabilitating people suffering from spinal-cord and brain injuries. At the end of May 2008, nearly a full year after his injury, Bobby spoke for the first time. He said his name, and when asked the name of his sister, he said, “Faith.”

He was discharged from Craig in early July 2008. He lived in a house in Denver and continued to make positive strides.

Bobby returned home to Cody in mid-December 2008 to continue his rehabilitation. His progress thus far has been significant — how far he'll come is unknown. But over the course of his most difficult journey yet, he has touched the lives of the people close to him in unexpected ways.

A mother's devotion

Anne Young, Bobby's mom, summed it up in this way: “Once a mom, always a mom. Your life changes a lot. All of a sudden you can't do things, but you sort of don't care. You just love them, and you want to be with your kids.

“My life has taken on a lot more meaning. I have a lot more confidence in myself because of Bobby, to know you can get through really hard situations.”

Anne added that, throughout the last year and a half, “We've developed really strong relationships with the staff at the hospitals.”

Bobby's therapist from Denver moved to Cody to help him continue his recovery, and according to Anne, “This nurse in South Africa quit her job as an I.C.U. nurse and became a photographer. That had always been her dream.

“She attributes it directly to Bobby. Even when he was in a coma, his story and his strength really inspired a lot of people. It was really the glue for a lot of us.”

Anne said she recently read an article about the human brain. She learned from the article that the part of the brain that controls the emotion of love is “deeply embedded, protected.”

“Bobby loves so much. When you walk into the room, you feel the love, for his friends, for me ... I feel so lucky,” she said. “It struck me that it's such a strong thing. Of all the emotions you want, that's the best to have there.”

A father's concern

Bobby's father, Bob Model, owns a ranch outside of Cody where Bobby spent much of his youth. It was on the ranch that he learned his love for the outdoors and the mountains. Bob said he's anxious for the Wyoming spring to arrive.

“When the weather gets better, and he'll be able to be outside more; that's a big thing,” he said.

The move back to Cody has been, according to Bob, a positive thing as well.

“Since we got home, things have been really good for him. He grew up here. He has friends here. His nurse says he's happier here and glad to be home. I think that he'll make big strides.”

Bobby's father and step-mother, Mona Scott Model, also get to see Bobby more frequently now that he's returned to Cody.

However, just where the future is headed is worrisome for Bob.

“Bobby is stable, medically. That's a great thing. That's huge. But the big question mark is what will he look like in a couple of years? I worry about that a lot ... I think I know a baseline as far as what would be acceptable to him. I just hope and pray we get there.”

Bob also said the costs of Bobby's care have been staggering.

“Fortunately, he had insurance, but it's not enough to take care of the costs that are important. How will it be paid for, and what's going to happen 20 years from now?” he asked.

Bob said, for him, in a “philosophical way, you just continue to hope for the best and do what you can to survive what life throws at you.”

Prior to his accident, Bobby faced many challenges head-on, and he constantly found new ways to push himself.