Dr. Chris Hills with former patient Ava Finger at the Ironman Wisconsin. Hills raced to raise money for Ava's ongoing needs. Photo: Janelle Finger and Charlie Hills

Bi-monthly, Buckrail sits down with a local mover and shaker who plays a role in making Jackson, Jackson.

JACKSON, Wyo. — Dr. Chris Hills seemingly does it all. An avid skier, cyclist, runner and triathlete, the local spinal surgeon has completed multiple Ironman’s, the third being Sept. 12.

Hills has lived in Jackson with his wife and four kids for seven years. He works at Teton Orthopedics, specializing in adult spine surgery, back and neck, orthopedic surgery, and trauma and fracture care. He also volunteers at Jackson Hole High School as the team doctor, where his two youngest children are currently students.

Following the events of September 11, 2001, Hills was commissioned as an officer in the U.S Army. He served nine years as a general orthopedic surgeon and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011.

This Ironman was different for Hills. Along with longtime friend, Tom Bruno, the pair raced to raise funds for a former patient of his, 15-year-old Ava Finger of Juneau, Wisconsin.

Finger was injured while mountain biking in Jackson Hole on Aug. 20, 2020, five days before her 14th birthday. She spent her birthday in the hospital here in Jackson. She suffered injuries to her T-8 and T-9 vertebrae and is a complete T-9 paraplegic, Hills said.

Hills conducted her spinal fusion surgery. Finger was discharged on Aug. 31 after 11 days in the hospital.

Ava Finger won a one-on-one game against Dr. Hills during his visit to Wisconsin. Photo: Janelle Finger and Carlie Hills

As the year anniversary of Finger’s injury approached, Hill thought this year’s ironman could be a perfect way to honor his former patient.

“Ava’s mom has volunteered at the race for a number of years; it was nearly a year from her injury and it just seemed like the perfect time,” Hills said.

Ava and her family participated in run support and were there throughout the Ironman. “She made posters for Tom and me. There was a picture of her in the ICU after a dressing change on her back, the poster said, ‘Dr. Hills had my back now I have his,'” Hills said.

Amongst other sports, Ava has since started in a wheelchair basketball league in Milwaukee. She was able to get an extra chair for Hills to use during the visit so they could play a one on one game. “She absolutely crushed me in wheelchair basketball,” He said.

Hills opened a GoFundMe page to raise money for Ava and her ongoing needs.

“She’s a complete injury but this year she is going to start driving. Her mom Janelle is hoping to get hand controls put into her car,” shared Hills. This will allow Ava to drive using controls mounted on the steering wheel.

Her mom also shared updates and how the donations will be used on the GoFundMe page.

During the summer of 2020, Hills treated 5-6 patients with spinal cord injuries.

As an avid skier, Hills shared a few tips for the community to avoid orthopedic injuries this winter. He said:

  • Maintain a good pre-season fitness regiment.
  • Ski within your means and always have a buddy with you.
  • Don’t push the envelope when conditions are not ideal, don’t push it when it’s not right.
  • Know and understand the avalanche conditions.

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.