DENVER - A recent graduate of East High School had to put college plans on hold following an accident in Mexico over the summer.
Some students call Andrew Oullette the “Face of East.” The teen was a star lacrosse player who had friends in every circle and enjoyed just about every activity at school. Playing guitar, swimming and hanging out with friends were just a few.
In July, Oullette’s life changed in a matter of seconds when he was in Cabo with friends before heading off to college. He used to be a lifeguard and felt confident swimming in rough waves.
“I remember just feeling the force of the wave push me down,” Oullette said. “Next minute there I am, lying face down in the water and I couldn’t move anything.”
The last thing Oullette remembers is another wave pulling him back into the water.
“I was like this is it. I’m dying.”
He was flown to Colorado and spent the past 3 months recovering at Craig Hospital.
Oullette suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed.
“It’s still me. I just can’t move myself the same,” Oullette said. “You’re back in the real world but just not really back.”
Oullette says he experienced a range of emotions following the life-changing injury.
“It’s pretty depressing but like I said, you have to just keep telling yourself you have hope. Keep trying. Keep working and it’ll get better.”
One thing that has stood out to friends and family is his optimism and hope through a difficult situation.
The teen says support and encouragement has been pouring in, which has helped him have hope.
“I mean, if I’m not doing this for myself I have to do it for them,” he said.
Former classmates and friends helped organize a special welcome home on his first full day out of the hospital.
Oullette happens to be staying at a place with a balcony that overlooks East’s baseball field.
The entire school gathered on the baseball field holding posters and signs Friday afternoon. When Oullette wheeled himself to the balcony, the student body screamed “welcome back Andrew” and performed a school cheer.
“Seeing that, that’s even better than encouragement,” Oullette said. “That’s amazing that they could do that. That they could get the whole school out there for me.”
His father, Tom Oullette, was also touched by the welcome home from East.
“It totally changes his mood and his life to have so many good friends that come out for him,” Mr. Oullette said.
Andrew said he’s grateful for the kind gesture from his former classmates.
“I just hope everyone appreciates their ability to walk,” Oullette said. “If I do get better, I can’t imagine how much I’ll appreciate every little thing. Like, all the things that used to be a problem, all my worries and things that sucked in everyday life, I wish those were my worries now.”
Oullette is still planning on attending college next semester but is unclear on whether he’ll go back to Cal Poly to study business.
While recovering for several months at Craig Hospital, Oullette met two other students attending Cal Poly, who suffered nearly the same injury he did in a similar way.
Copyright 2016 KUSA