July 11, 1989. While it was long ago, I can still close my eyes and relive almost every moment. It started out as a typical summer day and the warehouse my company was building was moving right on schedule. This particular day we would be setting wooden roof trusses with a span of sixty five feet.
At approximately 12:30, the crane set the last truss. Three men were on top of the masonry wall of the building, while one of my crewmen and I were on the ground inside the building. I sent my helper out to the truck to get more mails so we could brace the last truss to the ground.
As soon as he exited the building, I heard a screeching, twisting noise as if someone were pulling a piece of wood out of a wall. I looked around, trying to find the source of the noise. A piece of broken truss hit me in the face. It knocked me backward. I was hit again in the back and then again by the enormous sections of trusses that were collapsing from above. I had no chance to react. It was all happening so quickly, I didn’t know what happened. I saw wood and masonry flying around me and realized the building was collapsing on top of me. There was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t get out of the way. Although it seemed like an eternity, it happened in a matter of seconds. The blow to my face spun me around, and I was buried immediately under a tremendous amount of weight.
I learned from the guys later how quickly everything collapsed. Twelve men were working the site that day. Some were on the ground but most were 16 feet high in the air, on top of the masonry walls. As the walls buckled, those on top were either knocked off or they jumped to escape the collapsing structure. Once the men got over their initial shock of this turn of affairs, they checked to see how injured everyone was and did a quick head count. Since I wasn’t anywhere outside the structure, the men concluded the only place I could be was buried beneath all the rubble.
Semi-conscious and largely oblivious to my surroundings, I felt my life force draining from my body. I can recall thinking, It’s not supposed to end this way, not here, not now; at least this wasn’t how the end of my life played out in my mind. I remember thinking “I’m ready to go.” The feeling of struggle was fleeting and I succumbed to the thought that my death was inevitable. With that, everything became dark and I was enveloped by a bright white light. It was the most secure, beautiful feeling I’ve ever experienced. I felt warm. I didn’t hurt any longer. I was at peace and almost eager to head toward a place where I could experience this euphoria.
I actually began to leave my body. I felt myself rising above the collapsed building and began to view the site below. It was at this point I heard my name being called. Faintly at first, then louder and louder. My brother Jimmy, who was working on the crew that day, was searching for me despite his own injuries.
Once I was located they were able to use the hook on the crane to lift the heavy weight I was buried under and being suffocated by. It was at this point in time, however, that I realized I couldn’t move my legs – I was paralyzed. Rescuers rushed to the site, stabilized me, extricated me and then loaded me on a helicopter to be taken to the nearest trauma hospital where I was given last rites before undergoing thirteen hours of surgery to try and save my life.
I awoke sometime the next day to be greeted by the trauma surgeon who told me that he was surprised I made it through the surgery. He then proceeded to tell me that I was a paraplegic and that there was a 99% chance I would never walk again. I had faced some tough circumstances before in my life, but nothing ever prepared me to hear such a bleak and dire diagnosis.
A little over a week into my hospital stay, I encountered the experience that truly changed my life. Late one night I lay in bed unable to get any more depressed than I already was. I emotionally broke down and began to sob uncontrollably, begging God to help me. Here’s the amazing part. God actually spoke to me in my hospital room. This was the first time I heard His voice. Even so, I feel now that His presence had already been protecting me. Yes, even though something went horribly wrong at the construction site, unexplainable coincidences started to occur there – for instance, how quickly I was found, how the medics stabilized me without doing any further damage to my back, the helicopter getting me to the trauma unit so quickly, the surgery. I could go on and on. But this was the first time I heard the voice loud and clear speaking directly to me. As I finished my plea, I heard a voice clearly say, “Everything is going to be all right.”
Everything was going to be all right… I heard it and I knew it to be true. I sighed with relief. Someone else believed it too! I knew I would walk, and know someone else did, too. I turned around in the darkened room to see who was speaking. There was no one else in the room. There was no one walking past the door in the corridor; yet I heard an unmistakably clear, strong voice tell me everything was going to be all right. As soon as I heard this voice, calmness unlike anything I had ever felt came over me. I was going to be cured. I was so ecstatic that I couldn’t fall back to sleep.
I awoke with the strangest feeling the next morning. Did I speak with God the night before, or was it another morphine induced nightmare? My inner self felt so calm and at peace, as if everything was going to be okay, but I couldn’t be sure. A few weeks later, with no visible progress in site, and none on the horizon, I contracted hepatitis from al the blood transfusions I received during surgery. It was at this point I was really ready to give. My entire body ached – my hair even hurt! Incredibly, a few days after the hepatitis was brought under control I was able to move the little toe on my right foot ever so slightly. A few days later, the little toe on my left foot moved. From this point on I knew I would get better. From that point on, the physical therapy consisted on rebuilding my leg muscles that had atrophied from the paralysis.
Almost three months to the day of the accident, I walked out of the hospital, with the use of a walker of course, but under my own power. It took several years to rebuild my life, but if you were to meet me today you would not even know that I had ever been injured. I now travel and speak with countless people encouraging them to never give up hope because you never know when your miracle is just around the corner.
I wrote a published book (2010) about my journey back to physical and spititual health. It is called Unintended Consequences: Lessons From A Life Almost Lost. It is my intention to share my story and help others by reading my book. Tell me your story on my website.