As a newspaper photographer, I normally spend Veterans Day photographing parades and other events surrounding the special day.
Last year, I missed Veterans Day because I was lying in a coma in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Roanoke, Virginia after a motorcycle crash two days earlier that left me with severe brain damage, a badly-disfigured face, a dislocated eye and multiple broken bones in my right leg.
Doctors weren’t optimistic. At the emergency room on the night of the crash, they told my wife that I probably would die before morning and urged her to summon a priest.
When I sent into surgery after surviving the night they predicted I would lose my badly mangled leg. When they saved the leg, the prediction was that I would never be able to walk on it.
Same dire predictions on reconstruction of my face and rebuilding of a socket to hold my eye. I would lose the eye, they said. When they save the eye they doubted I would be able to see out of it. She was warned that to not expect too much when the bandages were removed from extensive plastic surgery.
In addition, the brain damage, they said, could leave me with the mind of a two-year-old and I probably would not know who I was, remember anything about my life, and certainly would not recognize her.
I left that hospital complex 46 days later, using a walker, seeing where I was going, and knowing my wife. Two weeks later, I walked without the aid of the walker and removed the cast three weeks after that. An eye test with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles revealed strong vision in both eyes and no need for glasses or contact lenses.
Six months later, I completed most of my physical therapy and was allowed to return to work on a limited basis.
This past Sunday, I photographed an annual Veterans Day parade, moving quickly from location to location to capture dozens of images for publication in newspapers for the media chain I work with.
One of the doctors who filled the final report for my discharge late last year summed up my recovery in a non-medical way: “The patient,” she wrote, “is a walking miracle.”
No, I’m not. I’m simply the product of excellent medical care at a good trauma hospital and an excellent physical rehab unit. I was the extremely lucky recipient of quick thinking by a man who stopped first at the scene of my accident and — with his nurse wife on his cell phone — cleared by airway and restored my breathing, which had stopped. His actions saved my life.
Over the last year, the support from friends and a lot of people I have never met or don’t even know, helped my wife and I get through what has clearly been a life-changing experience.
On Sunday, it was important for me to photograph that Veterans Day parade and it will be important to spend today performing normal duties as a photo journalist.
It’s what I do and — for months late last year and extending into this year — there was concern that I might not be able to do it again — even if I survived.
Today, none of that matters, because today we honor the men and women who served their country as veterans. What I went through is nothing compared to that they have endured or the sacrifices they have made.
Today, we honor those who deserve our thanks and eternal gratitude. Those who marched in the parade I was, thankfully, able to photograph Sunday are the real “walking miracles” of our nation.