Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Survivor

Today I met a survivor of a horrific plane crash that happened in Missoula last year. At the time of the accident I recall I didn't pay much attention as it was a twin engine plane with two people on board and they both wasn't until today the story took on a whole new meaning for me.

First, some background. As most everybody knows, I run a surgical practice out here (Urology). I'm the Practice Manager. I also operate my business that I started in 1995, Motion Medical Solutions and I'm still a minority owner in a small medical supplies business in Indianapolis, eWellness (my personal joke is "one day I'll actually make some money in one of these endeavors"). In 2004 eWellness began selling a new line of cold therapy products called Game Ready in Indiana that were intended for use by athletes. Last year, the company began to focus on physical therapy and post-operative applications for the product and eWellness began to 'rent' the product out to patients. Business took off and we then picked up the Illinois territory and Montana. Late last year I began to establish Game Ready business in Missoula with the hopes of eventually hiring an employee here. I now have one doctor prescribing the Game Ready system for his knee and shoulder surgery patients...and I'm hoping to add two more in the near future. Today I noticed he had an ankle repair on the docket and so I reminded the nurses that I could supply them with ankle wraps if he wanted to try it on his patient.
The doctor decided he'd like to try the ankle unit and so I was notified and brought over the appropriate equipment. Unfortunately there was a leak in the system and so they sent the patient home and called me to say if I wanted to I could contact the patient directly and go to his home to set up the unit.

And so I did...

This afternoon I stepped into this gentleman's home up in the southern hills outside Missoula. I have to admit I wasn't thrilled about having to drive the 30 minutes it took to get there in the middle of my regular workday, knowing the result would be me at the office late again. The first thing I noticed when I entered his home were model airplanes everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE). There were shelves and cases all over the place and there were airplane placemats and photos too, along with a smattering of motorcycle models. He was watching Star Trek re-runs. I noticed his hands were scarred pretty bad and the shiny nature made me recognize burn scars. He had a jovial appearance. I began to explain how the system worked and he thought he recalled having something similar all over his body in the hospital...another sign that he sustained a serious injury. He often interjected that he wasn't sure exactly what he'd been treated with because he was in the hospital for so long.

Not wanting to delve into his private life I never followed up on his statements and just kept talking. He then said he'd been in a coma and that his back was broken and he had an awful problem with muscle atrophy. He kept offering bits and pieces until I finally couldn't take it anymore..."what happened to you" is what I think I blurted out. "Oh, I was in a plane crash", he sad very calmly. "Yeah, I broke my back, got some pretty bad burns all over my body, wrecked my whole right side, crushed my ankle and foot and pretty much was dead". I just stared at him shocked. All I could think to say was, "how'd it happen?" This lead to what turned out to be about an hour long visit with him and his sister. It turns out a mechanic left the turbo engine manual rolled up inside of the actual turbo engine filter by mistake and installed the filter in the engine, where it sat for three months before finally jarring lose, into the turbo prop and causing the engine to explode upon take-off. This man is a pilot for a private company and flew that same plane, almost daily, for those three months. He said it was a miracle he is alive. He described in detail how the accident occurred, how he fought the plane to keep it from flipping and how it slammed into the earth. It was then I noticed his ceiling fan...the blades were miniature propellers and the unit was a replica of the front of a plane...this guy loves planes.

So he started to tell me how he has loved planes since he could remember and that he built every model in his house...including the 60 radio controlled units in his basement. He claims to be one of a handful of people in the world who can fly a radio-controlled helicopter upside down. He then invited his sister to show me the basement and I of course could not refuse. His basement was more like a warehouse, polished cement floor, white walls, industrial lighting and planes of all sizes in neat compartments along every nook and cranny. In one area there was a drafting table with plans taped to the wall and all kinds of drafting utensils. There were two choppers in the base,ment and posters of sports cars and motorcycles and racing planes on the walls not covered by plane compartments. The biggest surprise of all? He is building a full-scale replica of the original test plane for the space shuttle project...he got the original plans from one of the engineers who designed the plane. I saw the fuselage, the wings...he even had special doors installed in the basement so he will be able to remove the plane, piece by piece from his basement when it is complete (It is a walk out). His sister rolled her eyes and said if I let him he'd have me there all day telling me about building that plane.

This guy is amazingly happy...not in a "Life is now beautiful because I escaped death" sort of way but like he has always been that way sort of way. Despite the fact he still appears to have many problems to overcome, he spent almost my entire visit smiling or telling me stories that obviously excited him. I told him that he amazed me and he should become an inspirational speaker or something...his response was very Montana-ish (or rural Indiana)..."oh, I don't know about that, I'm just lucky I guess".

Anyhow, I left the was sunny and windy up there and very open, no trees to speak I left the house and just turned and looked back at it for a few seconds with the wind whipping through me, squinting back towards the door...and was speechless. I came back to the office and have been shaking my head ever since. You geeks out there...and you know who you are...would love to meet this guy.