ROANOKE, Va. - Thirty-year-old Cody McCulloch feels lucky to be alive.
"I'm very blessed to be alive, that's for sure," McCulloch said.
An avid hunter, McCulloch has been using lock-on tree stands all his life and never had a problem.
But last Thursday, as he was checking his stand, it broke, plummeting him 25 feet.
"Broke my T-1 vertebrae down to my L-1 vertebrae... I broke a couple ribs, broke my wrist," McCulloch said. "Any stand with those steel cables, I just wouldn't trust them. I'd put some kind of secondary safety system in them... You can't be safe enough, and always wear your harness."
He was not wearing a harness when he fell.
He also encourages hunters to have someone with them, or at least tell people where they're going and take a phone with them.
Bedford County hunter Barry Arrington is collecting money to help McCulloch.
"It just really struck close to home. Cody's been a friend for years now. I just want to try to help him and his family," Arrington said.
He estimated Tuesday he had collected a couple hundred dollars since he started collecting over the weekend.
"Hunters are a brotherhood," Arrington said. "I'm counting on these guys. Even if it's just a dollar here and there, every little bit helps."
He echos McCulloch's safety tips.
Arrington fell from a tree stand 25 years ago and was permanently paralyzed.
Roanoke hunter Jeff Phillips is also a friend of McCulloch's and visited him in the hospital Friday.
To see the support the hunting community is giving McCulloch means the world, he said.
"Having hosted a Facebook page for Virginia hunters over the last six years, I've gained a lot of respect for the hunting community. There's a lot of great people in the hunting community, so I wasn't surprised that they would rally behind Cody," Phillips said.
He fell from a tree stand when he was 20 as he reached out to grab a board a friend tossed him to make their tree stand.
"I was up about 20 feet off the ground nailing things in. He was trying to throw another board up to me and as I reached out to grab it, the nails gave away and i was on my back within seconds," Phillips recalled.
Luckily, he was not injured.
"Before you ever attempt to climb up into the stand, make sure that the stand is, one, secured to the tree, and that all the parts are in good working order," Phillips said. "When ascending and descending, you should be in a safety harness."
McCulloch will spend the next month in the hospital at UVA and then undergo a year of physical rehab, but he hopes to eventually get back in the woods.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help him. As of Tuesday evening, over $11,000 had been raised.
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