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A Dance with Death

Andrew Vogel is getting back into the swing of things.

The 18-year-old Ashland High School senior is a competition-winning West Coast Swing dancer and on his way toward making a full recovery after a life-threatening October car accident in California.

"I had no clue what was going to happen; for me, it was the worry of if I would ever be able to dance again," said Vogel. "I eventually stopped thinking like that.

"I was determined."

Earlier this month, Vogel placed first in the novice Jack-and-Jill West Coast Swing category at the Southern Oregon Swing Convention, hosted at Medford-based Firehouse Dance Hall, where Vogel learned to dance.

"That, to me, was actually the crowning achievement of his recovery," said Dave Kahn, who owns Firehouse and coached Vogel before and after the accident. "His recovery and the gains that he has made in this short time are just miraculous. We really didn't know if he was going to be able to walk at all."

Vogel, who has been dancing since 2010, was traveling back to Ashland from a swing-dance event in Burlingame, Calif., south of San Francisco, when the accident occurred.

The clutch in Vogel's Mitsubishi Eclipse had failed while he was driving in the eastbound lane of Interstate 80, near the Bay Bridge, at about 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 10, he said.

He pulled over to the shoulder, sat in the driver's seat, and called AAA for a tow.

"I had just hung up," he said, when a Ford Ranger, whose driver was texting, veered across two lanes and collided with the rear driver's side of Vogel's Eclipse.

"The car collapsed on itself," Vogel said. "I ripped through my seat belt, hit the cement wall, and flopped back into the car."

Twice medical teams had to use a defibrillator to revive Vogel, said Virginia Vogel, his grandmother, who lives in Ashland.

Vogel was transported to John Muir Medical Center in nearby Walnut Creek, Calif., where he remained for 28 days, three weeks of it in intensive care. He was then transferred to Rogue Valley Medical Center, where he spent another week.

From the day before the collision to two weeks later, when he was taken out of an induced coma, Vogel said he cannot remember anything.

"All I know is what I've been told from my family, the crash report, and from CHP (California Highway Patrol)," he said.

Since the accident, Vogel has competed in five dance competitions along the West Coast, making it to at least the semifinals in each, aside from one.

"I know I am not where I use to be, but I also know I've come a very long way from where I was," said Vogel. "Initially, the doctor's workout was making me sit up in a chair, just to use my abs ... and going up and down the halls in a wheelchair with my physical therapist."

Vogel started dancing before he left John Muir, he said.

"I got anxious and I did a simple pattern, which was basically me stepping back and stepping forward," he said.

After weeks of slow-paced rehab, a song coming through the radio one day in the hospital's gym caught his ear, so he asked his physical therapist if she wanted to dance.

"And I danced," he said.

"He's one of the most terrific students I have ever taught," said Kahn. "He's super passionate, and spends a lot of time working on it."

His win at the Southern Oregon Swing Convention, held May 18-20, was Vogel's first top finish since the accident. He competed against about 40 dancers.

Vogel, who will graduate from AHS this year, plans to attend Rogue Community College and study computer science, eventually transferring to Southern Oregon University, he said.

His memory is not like it used to be, nor is the coordination in his left arm, but he's slowly getting there, he said.

Vogel said one of the major drives he had toward recovery while in the hospital was the amount of support the dance community had for him, through benefits, donations and simple cards.

Among other organizations along the West Coast, Southern Oregon Swing raised more than $1,300 for Andrew's recovery costs during two benefit performances on Oct. 15-16 at the Firehouse Dance Hall, said Kahn, who is co-director of Southern Oregon Swing.

Vogel said he will always dance and keep working to excel beyond his abilities before the accident.

His next competition is at the Portland Dance Festival on July 12-15, and the next will be whichever one he scrapes enough money together to attend.

"I can't wait," said Vogel. "It's such a big part of my life, I cannot see me without it."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.