Feature Stories

Childhood best friends paralyzed 32 years apart—‘We’re more tied to each other than we ever imagined’

Sometimes when we ask for a miracle or for healing, God sends a friend.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the March/April issue of LDS Living magazine.

As Dan Wadsworth lay unable to move in the hospital, he remembered something he hadn’t thought of in years. His mind went back to a moment in a high school weight-lifting class. He was in the class to train for football, but as he did exercises to strengthen his back, he wasn’t thinking of making better tackles or throwing more yards. “This one’s going to help me lift Jason up the stairs better,” Dan thought.

Jason Hokanson was his best friend who had been paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. Dan (then age 14) had gone nearly every day to visit Jason (then age 15), as the latter worked through weeks in the hospital and then four months in rehabilitation.

Once Jason could go back to high school, Dan was the one to carry him up the stairs each day. Dates, school dances, sports—the boys did everything together. When Jason wanted to try adaptive waterskiing, Dan held him from behind for an entire summer until Jason had the strength to do it himself. Their friendship cemented into a bond to last a lifetime.

Now Dan lay in the hospital, his spinal cord injured at the exact same level that Jason’s had been 32 years ago. Though their accidents had been completely different, the resulting damage to their backs was shockingly similar. And never had their friendship been more important.

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Jason Hokanson (left) and Dan Wadsworth (right) after Dan’s accident.
All photos courtesy of the Hokanson and Wadsworth families.

“We’ve talked about the preexistence a little bit and how maybe we knew about what was going to happen to us. Maybe we understood, and that’s what’s made us tight [friends],” Jason says.

Just as his friend had done for him years ago, Jason was at the hospital nearly every evening, ready to share a thought or quote with Dan to help him through the pain.

“The hardest I cried in the hospital was during one of Jason’s visits when he brought up the concept of eternal friendship,” Dan says. “Our friendship has been a miracle for getting me through this, and maybe that isn’t talked about enough—the miracle of a good friend.”

Dan’s life had changed forever, and Jason was prepared to carry him through every up and down. Their lives are now intertwined in a way that testifies of God’s goodness and love for us, a love often shown through the gift of friendship.

The Accidents

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Dan (left) and Jason (right) on a trip to Lake Powell in 1988, prior to their accidents.

When they were kids, Jason’s and Dan’s families loved going to Lake Powell together. On a Thursday in early October 1990, Dan slept over at Jason’s house so they could get on the road early the next morning. But in his excitement for the trip, Dan slipped on the porch in the morning and cut his chin open, which meant he’d have to stay home.

The next time he saw Jason was at the University of Utah Hospital, as Dan’s father hovered his hands over Jason’s stitched-up head to give him a priesthood blessing before surgery.

On their drive to the lake, Jason’s family had been in a car accident about 35 miles outside of Price, Utah. Jason had been thrown from the car, resulting in a broken wrist, cuts to his head, and a spine completely split in half. He’d been taken by ambulance to Price, where he was stabilized before being flown by helicopter to the University of Utah for surgery to fuse his spine back together.

The procedure was successful, and for the next few months, Dan was at the hospital nearly daily to see his friend.

“When we were 15 years old, we were playing video games in the hospital, making jokes, doing wheelies, and driving the nurses nuts,” Jason remembers of those days. “But then, when Dan got injured, we were having more deep, spiritual life conversations. We were talking about how we’re a little bit more tied to each other than we ever imagined.”

On August 9, 2022, Jason got a call that Dan had been in an accident. When he heard that his friend was in surgery, he was “scared to death.” He stayed up all night waiting to hear updates.

On the day of the accident, Dan went up to the attic of his home to retrieve something. At the time, he was “living the dream [he’d] always wanted.” He and his wife had four children; he served in the bishopric of his ward, held a job in cybersecurity, and had just enjoyed a summer of boating trips, many with Jason’s family.

Up in the attic, he was careful to lay down boards for safety. But after looking through a box, he stood up and accidentally stepped back off a platform. He fell 12 feet before landing on the back of his head on the concrete in the garage. The impact caused two skull fractures, a traumatic brain injury, and a broken spine.

Dan’s daughter, who is usually working on art projects in her bedroom, just happened to be in the kitchen when he fell, so she was by his side within seconds.

“She holds my head, trying to stop the bleeding. My other son, who was 14 at the time, comes running [asking], ‘What do I do?’ She tells him, ‘Call 911.’ My other son comes running out: ‘What do I do?’ ‘You go inside and start praying,’” Dan says. “There’s my 18-year-old daughter, who has pretty severe anxiety—she took control.”

Within five minutes, paramedics arrived at their home. Dan’s wife, Michelle, who had been across town when he fell, made it home just in time to see him before he was loaded into the ambulance.

The Recovery

Dan doesn’t remember anything after being put in the ambulance. He woke up to a new life of paralysis from the waist down. And from the very beginning, Jason’s example has given him hope.

“From the time he was injured till the time I was injured, I saw what an awesome life he had,” Dan says. “So I wasn’t afraid. I knew it was going to be challenging—I had no clue just how challenging; you never know until you go through it—but knowing Jason and how his life turned out? And his family? And how his testimony turned out? That was so hopeful.”

Both Dan and Jason find hope in their testimonies of Jesus Christ. Dan clearly remembers his first Sunday in the hospital, just five days after his fall. Fortunately, his brain injuries had not been too severe, but light caused him pain, so he was lying alone in the dark when he heard a knock at the door.

It was a couple from one of the local wards who were taking the sacrament around to those confined to bed. Dan eagerly invited them in.

“They sing a song, and then in the darkness, they give me the sacrament. And oh, wow—I distinctly remember taking the body, taking the blood, and thinking about it totally differently than I ever had in my past 45 years of life,” Dan says. “I was thinking about the Atonement, the Resurrection, the frailty of life and how fleeting it can be, how easily it can be taken away. And how lucky and blessed I was that I still have some time.

“I always felt like I had a pretty strong testimony. … But I have a whole new appreciation for the Resurrection that I couldn’t even imagine before.”

Because Dan’s spinal cord had been pinched and stretched but not severed, it was possible that he could regain some movement and feeling. So in the days, weeks, and months following the accident, well-intentioned people would tell him that they believed he would walk again in this life. And while Dan wanted to believe them, he also had to face reality and not get hung up on what could have been.

After being home for about a month, he had a temple recommend interview with a member of his stake presidency, a man he loved and who had visited him multiple times in the hospital.

“The second question [he asks] is, ‘Do you have a testimony of the Atonement and the role of your Savior as your Redeemer?’ And I’m bawling; I was not a crier before this. But he and I are sitting there together, and he says, ‘Dan, you’re going to walk again; whether in this life or in the next, you’re going to walk again.’ That, to me, is [the meaning of the phrase] ‘because of Him.’”

Dan’s wife, Michelle, went on her own spiritual journey as they waited to see if Dan would regain any movement. The family was told by doctors that whatever movement Dan might have at his year mark was likely all he was going to get.

As the year mark approached, Michelle attended a general conference session where the choir sang “I Believe in Christ.” As she heard the lyrics “I believe in Christ, so come what may,” she felt stopped in her tracks.

“It was as though the Lord was asking me, ‘Do you have the faith to believe in me without receiving a miracle [of healing]?’” Michelle says. Dan did gain a little muscle movement in one leg but none in the other—not the miracle they might have hoped for—but Michelle chooses to trust the Lord.

“Knowing that this life is temporary is a huge blessing, knowing that someday Dan will be healed, and he’ll be made whole again,” she says. “And [knowing] that whatever we need to go through right now is because we have growing to do, that we need to become something different than what we are. Everyone has their own refiner’s fire, and I guess this is ours.”

And while we all will have our refiner’s fire, Michelle’s and Dan’s lives testify that we are never called to go through it alone.

The Miracle of Friendship

Today, the Wadsworth and Hokanson families have a love for each other that is nearly palpable. Dan and Jason are quick to joke and laugh but also speak openly and easily about how grateful they are for each other. Their wives are close friends, with Jason’s wife, Sarah, offering support as Michelle adjusts to her family’s new life.

“We’ve been blessed so many times, in so many different ways, by just having them on call,” Michelle says. “Having Jason be there for Dan in ways that I couldn’t. And Sarah could be there for me in ways that Dan couldn’t because we both had different healing to go through.”

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Jason (left) and Dan (right) enjoying the outdoors.
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The Wadsworth and Hokanson families enjoying a ski day.
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The Hokanson and Wadsworth families.
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Jason (left) and Dan (right) enjoying the outdoors.
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Sarah says the most important thing we can do as friends is to “just be there.” Whether that means sitting at a hospital bedside, answering the phone at night, or chatting on the porch, friendship can provide the miracles we need, giving hope and reshaping lives.

“Those miracles have healed our hearts and strengthened us to be able to bear all things,” Michelle says. “I can’t even begin to say how much [Jason’s and Sarah’s] support meant to us. Having them with us through the healing process has been so incredibly uplifting.”

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Dan and Michelle Wadsworth with Sarah and Jason Hokanson at the Wadsworths’ daughter’s wedding on May 13, 2023.

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