WRAL anchor injured in bodysurfing accident sets date for return to work

WRAL’s Jeff Hogan talks to his co-anchor Renee Chou in an interview posted on WRAL.com on August 16, 2018.
WRAL’s Jeff Hogan talks to his co-anchor Renee Chou in an interview posted on WRAL.com on August 16, 2018. WRAL screenshot

WRAL anchor Jeff Hogan, seriously injured in a bodysurfing accident at Wrightsville Beach less than three weeks ago, will return to the anchor desk next week.

His return was first reported in a WRAL story updating Hogan’s condition since his July 28 accident.

Hogan was interviewed by his co-anchor Renee Chou about the beach accident, talking about how his daughters saved his life, and about his recovery process. The interview aired Thursday on WRAL’s morning news program and was posted with an extended video interview on WRAL.com.

Hogan started at WRAL in January and is the morning and noon co-anchor, replacing Bill Leslie, who retired in June.

A ‘freak accident’

Hogan suffered a concussion and neck injuries in what he called a “freak accident” that left him “completely paralyzed and face-down in the water.”

WRAL anchor Jeff Hogan from his hospital bed after being injured in a bodysurfing accident at Wrightsville Beach on July 28, 2018. WRAL screenshot

His daughters were close by and turned him over and then held him up in the water so he could breathe, as they waited for help getting him to shore. Hogan said he never lost consciousness and could hear his daughters screaming — and that’s when he knew he’d be OK.

Hogan told Chou that he “saw that white light for a split second” and thought, “I guess this is how it happens.” Then he immediately thought, “No, this is not how it happens today.”

Within eight or nine hours of being taken to the hospital, Hogan said he could “move everything a little bit,” and his lingering symptoms now include numbness and tingling in his hands and stiffness in his fingers. He’s walking and had to relearn motor skills, like buttoning his shirt and tying his shoes, but has made tremendous progress in a short time and says his days are “almost normal” now.

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A 1995 NIH study of bodysurfing accidents indicated that most commonly, injuries are the result of “forced hyperextension of the head and neck due to the surfers having been caught up in turbulent wave action and driven into the sandy sea bottom.”

A previous report from WRAL said Hogan was slammed by a wave face-down into a sandbar.

Returning to the anchor desk

Hogan is continuing his physical therapy to try to regain his full range of motion, and he told Chou he’ll likely have surgery on his neck next month, to help him regain feeling in his hands.

But he has made so much progress that he’ll be back on air in just a few days.

WRAL vice president and general manager Joel Davis confirms that Hogan will be back at the anchor desk on Monday, Aug. 20, and will start out co-anchoring with Chou from 4:30-7 a.m. Davis said Hogan will increase his responsibilities as he gets his doctor’s approval to add more to his workload.

“He came into the station this morning about 8 a.m. to say hello to everyone,” Davis said in an email to The News & Observer on Thursday. “So on Monday he can focus on returning to work. He is very upbeat, recovering well, and the team was thrilled to see him today.”

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Brad Johansen, who joined WRAL in April, has been filling in at the anchor desk for Hogan while he’s been out.

Red Flags, but no rip current

In the interview, Chou asked Hogan why he was in the water when Red Flags were flying, and Hogan insisted there were no rip currents that day. He said it was a freak accident that happened because of a short break close to the beach, where the water depth “went from neck deep water to two feet of water.”

In a July 30 story on WRAL.com, station anchor Brad Johansen, who was also there when Hogan was injured, described the conditions as rough, but said lifeguards had not whistled any swimmers out of the water.

The town of Wrightsville Beach describes a Red Flag signal warning as a “high hazard” indicator: “All swimmers are discouraged from entering the water. Those entering the water should take great care ... This category implies that water conditions are life threatening to all people who enter the surf. There may be a high number of rescues on red flag days.”

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Hogan said he feels better every day and just wants to get well again.

“It makes you think about life a little bit,” he told Chou. “Makes you think about how precious it is. Makes you think about how some of the things we take for granted can be gone in a second. It has been eye opening for me, really.”