Harry has an attitude so optimistic and positive that it is fun to be around him. You ask yourself, “How in the world can that guy be so happy all the time? Well this is his story of hope.
Harry was a very talented guy who had it made. A great career started, a new car, a great skier and tons of friends. He was extremely intelligent, had plenty of girlfriends, but things were never good enough – he never really felt good enough. He had started doing drugs at a very early age, trying to fill a hole that he didn’t even know was there. By the time he had finished eighth grade, he already smoked weed regularly, took uppers, downers, and even LSD. The guy smoked cigarettes and he drank whenever he had the chance. In high school he did PCP then, in college, he was still doing drugs only now he discovered cocaine. But something was missing inside. He thought it was cool being with all the pretty girls but that just made him lonely. What was he looking for? Just how big was that hole?
On March 2, 1985, he was out with a good friend drinking and using cocaine. He was driving home to the condo he lived in with his aerobics instructor girlfriend. Her sister and brother-in-law had come for the weekend. What was he even doing out? How big was that hole? While driving through the intersection at Armstrong and Olive, a pick-up hit the right side of his of S-10 Blazer. The impact threw him out through the right rear window. Nobody was sure how long he was on the road. What they do know is that a man stopped and went to phone for help. When he had returned, Harry had been run over by another car! He spent thirty-one days in a coma. He was on a heart and lung machine, being fed through his nose and breathing by a machine with a tube through his neck. The guy had a massive head injury. His brain had been damaged and was unable to keep his body alive, leaving him dependent on machines. His mom never left the hospital and his friends, who he could never pay back, didn’t either. VMC (Valley Medical Center now University Medical) emptied the waiting room and then lined the floor with mattresses so his friends could sleep.
People in comas can hear. Hearing is the last sense to leave us. They ask people not to speak of bad things when visiting because of this. His brother said that he would come in and talk about things he did when he was young that really upset Harry. His family knew that his brother could hear him because Harry’s heart rate on the monitor would skyrocket!
He says he had some powerful dreams and one dream in which he believes he was given a choice. He was lying on an operating table surrounded by doctors and nurses. A doctor was explaining to everyone what had happened and how he was hurt. The last thing the doctor said was, “It is all up to him.” Then, he said he was walking down a dirt road with wheat for as far as you could see on all sides. He came upon a handsome man leaning on a rake or shovel or something, waving for him to cross over with him. He has played that scene through his mind a million times, and that man was leaning on a sickle. He had been given a choice. Life was going to be hard. He was hurt very badly and he knew it. He could have given up, but he says he kept going and didn’t even look back. He says that was because he wasn’t alone! He never felt alone the whole time!
He spent month at Club VMC on a heart and lung machine to teach his brain to regulate. Next, he was transferred to Community Hospital where he began rehabilitation. He had to re-learn absolutely everything, like how to walk, talk, eat, care for himself, where he lived, who people were in his life – everything you could think of. After the hospital, he was in rehabilitation five days a week, 8:30 – 4:00, for ten months of neurological retraining. He had already learned in the hospital how to take care of himself. This part of his recovery dealt with his being able to think, reason, and compute things with enough speed to use in real life. He had to learn how to feel and express emotions again, and to interact with others. He had speech therapy, physical therapy, cognitive retraining, and vocational therapy. He says these were his options: give 100 percent every day or be handicapped. It really wasn’t a choice at all. The guy gave his absolute best every day. Now that he was out in the real world, he said there was no reason in the world not to give life his very best! You’ll see that he does just that.
When he left CSUF in 1983, his grade point average was 1.9. Big deal! He didn’t think he needed good grades. He was good, but in his heart he didn‘t feel like he was worth anything. His ego made him so proud and nothing he did could satisfy the need is his heart. After rehab, he told his therapists that he was going back to CSUF to finish his degree. His therapists all said, “People that hurt their heads like you did don’t do things like go to school.” His grade point average to finish his degree was a hard fought 3.3! He has finished his master’s degree in cross-cultural teaching as well with a GPA of 3.6 and began looking for a job teaching in Kindergarten or 1st grade.
Before he hurt his brain, he had an I.Q. of 168. He was extremely gifted but really had no idea of how absolutely gifted he was. After rehab, he applied to an organization named MENSA, an organization you get into if your I.Q. is in the top 2% of the people in the world. He needed an I.Q. score of 158. He didn’t make it; he now had an I.Q. of 130. His psychologist in rehab said that the test that he had taken was a screening test. After contacting Mensa about his circumstances and further testing, he was told that tests given by psychologists could be accepted. He took the tests given by his psychologist that qualified him to be a Mensan! He says that he struggles to fit in and he says the people here (his co-workers and the guests including the kids) at Wild Water have helped him a great deal. People think that because he walks and talks differently there is something wrong with him…NOT! He tells us that the world wants to tell him he’s disabled and he says that’s fine, he gets the best parking spaces!
To celebrate his accident every year, he runs the Los Angeles Marathon! 2010 was his ninth time! The marathon is a great time. He met and ran with Garret Morris of Saturday Night Live, he met John Tesh, he met and corresponds with Dr. Bill Burke, the president of the marathon. He’s met Danelle Folda, Tylyn John, Charlotte Kemp, and Pamela Bryant, Playboy centerfolds of the Playboy Running Team. He met Pat Connelly, coach of the USC cross-country team. He rode his bicycle to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, through Yosemite a couple of times, and from Cambria to Solvang five times. He does biathlons, step classes, and has even learned to Rollerblade. He says triathlons are the final frontier! He says that the most amazing thing he does is sing in the choir at Northwest Church, where he sings praises to Jesus Christ, his savior, guide and friend.
He says that a career for him has been a struggle. He didn’t know where he was supposed to be until he started substitute teaching. He says that he gets to help kids to become the best they can be, and can’t believe he gets paid for that. Right now, after finishing his master’s degree, he is now looking for a permanent teaching position.
His brain goes like the speed of light but the part of his brain that modulates how fast he thinks and how fast he talks has been damaged. He has had to relearn a sense of rhythm at a metered pace. This enables him speak at an understandable pace until he gets tired. Life is still difficult for him and moving his body to walk, run and to speak is a conscience effort. That it’s not a ‘natural’ function any longer. Even after all this time, he just keeps trying. He doesn’t care for any other option!
He clings to Jesus as his only real hope and reason for having been given this life. Like in his coma, he doesn’t see Him, but he knows he’s not alone. He was dead, but now he is more alive than he ever could have imagined. The love he was looking for he found nowhere else but in Jesus. And, after what he has seen and experienced, he believes that there is something the Lord wants him here for. He says that all that has happened to him wasn’t for his benefit, but for God’s Glory to be seen by his family/friends.
He now functions on a level far above average, even though parts of his brain are dead. If you see him smiling all the time, too joyful to just be happy, know that he has joy. He says that every runner wants to run a marathon, every bachelor wants to meet a Playboy Bunny (the girls he met now have this story), and everyone on earth wants to be able to sing. El habla Espanol tambien! Que Espanol es una lingua muy romantica! El dices que gente en el mundo piensen Frances es la lingua de amore. El dices lo es Espanol! He speaks some Hungarian and Romanian as well!
Now, thirty years later, he has had a good life being active in church and around town. Running, speaking, and moving correctly are still a conscience effort. He fell at times when he was training for marathons because he lost concentration. When riding his bicycle with the clipless pedals, he sometimes stopped and fell after having trouble getting out of the pedals. After injuring his back at work and falling many times, he has destroyed a few vertebrae in his spine. He had a surgery to put in a brace to secure his spine and make up for the missing vertebrae. After surgery he was limited by his walking using a wheelchair and then a walker. He had to give up running and walking to stay fit, but he stayed active. After his first surgery, his back was still bothering him and he found out that his spine did not heal properly. He had to have another surgery, this time in San Francisco at UCSF.
The surgery was done using a rod to hold his spine together. He had to rehab again sort of like before only now he couldn‘t lift bend or twist. He had to learn to walk, get dressed like putting on his pants, shoes and socks, and his balance with the rod on his spine. He was told before the surgery, “You will be sitting on the couch for a year.” to recover. His life had been changed again. In his mind, he’d ask what is the Lord doing now? He had a difficult time just hanging around his house, playing Jungle Jewels on Facebook and solitaire on his computer. He went to choir rehearsals but was unable to walk up on the platform due to his balance.
He had physical therapy for a few months after his release and worked on walking and strengthening his core. After 6 month check-up with the surgeon, he asked about going to the gym. He was still using a walker but he had a goal to get rid of it. He got on the stationary bicycle to begin working his way back in shape, lifted light weights to gain some strength and finally getting in the pool to walk. In the pool, he could walk without his walker. Now after a few months of walking in the pool, he was hoping to run in the pool! Now he is back at the gym and singing in the choir. In the first week of February 2015, he had his one year check up with his surgeon and was told that all was good and to try running in the pool and lift heavier weights! So he is running and getting in good shape again!
He can sing at church again and is able to stand solid. He started singing in another choir called Hearts on Fire. What a fun group. They sing some 60’s, 70’s and 80’s pop/rock and they just recorded their first CD!
Life is different now because living and moving without using his back has been a big change. Getting dressed, how he moves, and other simple tasks are more difficult, but he continues to press on. Life is a marathon and he just keeps going on praising the Lord with his life!
Work like everything depends on you and pray like it all depends on the Lord! Then give life your best effort and watch what He can do with you!
Life isn’t about what you can get. When a person dies, nobody remembers what a person has, they remember what one gave! Life is about giving!
Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift. That is why today is called the present!
If you have any questions, would like to talk with Harry about this or would be interested in having Harry speak for your group/organization you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.