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Bull rider’s back on top

Utahn almost lost eye after animal stepped on his face last year

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SANTAQUIN — Up until a 1,600-pound bull stepped on his face last year, Chad Coburn had little use for doctors, lawyers and used car salesmen.

He still doesn't think much of attorneys or car salesmen.

But he has a new appreciation for doctors, especially the four specialists who saved and rebuilt his right eye after it was crushed and ruptured by a bull known as "Savage Seven" at a bull-riding clinic in March 1999.

"They told me there was a chance my eye would have to be taken out. If he'd a got me square, he'd of popped my head open and killed me," Coburn told the Deseret News.

As it turned out, Coburn's eye and face look normal except that he now wears glasses.

And he's back to waiting for the phone to ring to tell him what slot he has drawn for the next bull-riding event.

"The first time I ever saw it, I wanted to do this," Coburn said. "There's no higher high than winning; no lower low than losing."

It's such a high to Coburn that despite the past year filled with surgeries and weeks of double vision, he climbed right back on the bull.

"I've probably ridden 10 head this year since the accident," he said. "I haven't been riding a whole lot, but bull riding's still my passion."

The Santaquin cowboy who works for Union Pacific Railroad when he isn't competing started riding six years ago. He was helping to put on a bull-riding school in Tooele County when he was thrown by Savage Seven and stomped in the face by the big bull's hoof.

"I had my vest on or I'd have been gored real good, too," Coburn said. "I'd been told he's good. He'll spin with you and he did. Then he came in from the right and I went down under so fast. I hit the ground. My legs went up and he stepped right between my legs on my face. I was only out for a second, but when I came to, I felt kind of scuffed up.

"I thought I had a bunch of dirt in my eye and I couldn't see outta my eye," he said. "I more or less showed them (the students) how not to do it (bull ride)."

The side of Coburn's face was smashed, his jaw broken and his eye ruptured in three places. The retina was detached.

Coburn needed a specialist immediately, but the only one available worked in Utah County — Dr. Matthew Parsons at the Excel Eye Center.

Refusing to travel by ambulance because "they cost too dang much money," Coburn was taken by his rodeo buddies to the eye center in Provo, where Parsons was able to save the eye.

Soon after, Coburn again went into surgery performed by Dr. Kirk Winward with the Retina Associates of Utah at the University of Utah to clean up scar tissue.

Two months later, he was back at the Excel Eye Center for reconstructive surgery to the eye socket.

"Don't mess with the pretty stuff," Coburn told Dr. Todd Engen. "Just get her fixed back to where it looks all right and call it macaroni."

The remarkable thing is, the doctor did just what he asked and then some.

"He did all right," Coburn said. "I guess he did the pretty stuff anyway."

Now that he had his sight restored, only two problems remained — double vision and no color in his previously brown eye.

The double vision was corrected by Dr. Michael Abrams, an eye specialist who generally treats pediatric lazy eye and similar ailments in children. Abrams detached the muscles in Coburn's good eye, which forced the two eyes to work together.

Optometrist Dell Morris fit Coburn with a special brown contact with a black center that replicates the iris.

Today, Coburn has 20-20 vision, two brown eyes and a nervous wife. "She's all wound up all the time, thinking I'll get killed. It wasn't a good scene at the hospital. But I was a bull rider before I married her and I'll stay a bull rider. The first time I ever saw it, I wanted to do this."

Coburn won't give up the sport, but he will wear a small catcher's face mask when he rides, "to protect the miracle they performed," he said.

He's also willing to cut back just a little to help soothe wife Tammy's nerves.

He knows it's extremely high risk, and he's undoubtedly invested more in registration fees and travel than he'll ever make back in a prize-winning purse.

But he'd even climb back up on Savage Seven.

"It's the juice," he said. "There's nothing like it, all eight seconds of it. You never know what will happen. I wouldn't trade it back for nothing."

He freely gives credit to the doctors who helped along the way, but he's also quick to give thanks for what he believes is divine intervention.

"I believe in doctors, but the good Lord had a whole lot to do with it," he said. "I have more faith in the good Lord than in doctors."

E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com