October 25, 2007
The man with flinty blue eyes and thick head of salt-and-pepper hair begins to struggle with the weight machine at a Truckee gym. Considering, though, that just more than a year ago Jim Wilson lay in a coma, body broken and given barely a chance to survive, the struggle with the weights is all about life.
“You’ve got to push it ’til it hurts,” breaths Wilson, working his biceps after a traumatic motorcycle accident 13 months ago left him not only with 25 broken bones but also with a stronger faith and profound sense of community.
On September 12, 2006, Wilson, 47, was riding his ’96 Yamaha Royal Star motorcycle to a business meeting on Highway 29 near Clear Lake’s Konocti Bay when a Plymouth van crossed into his lane.
“Jim flew over the van and then, in a panic, the driver backed over him,” says Wilson’s wife, Lindy.
Wilson was airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where doctors gave him a one percent chance of survival.
“His heart stopped when the helicopter landed,” says Lindy. “The paramedic stopped to call it.”
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Lindy, a Truckee Elementary School teacher’s aide, says because of two collapsed lungs, five other damaged organs, two cardiac arrests ” one of which occurred on the helicopter ” and 25 broken bones including a compound fracture in his right leg, doctors informed her seven times that her husband would not survive.
“They told me his injuries would kill him and that his children would not make it in time to see him,” Lindy recalls.
“In the first hour he used 50 pints of plasma, says Kent Corley, Blood Bank of the Redwoods public relations manager. “Most people have eight to ten units in their bodies.”
Wilson’s need for donated blood did not stop the first night and increased to 182 pints over the course of the next two months as doctors stabilized his condition. This, along with his recovery from strokes and his other injuries, earned Wilson the moniker of “Miracle Man” among doctors and blood bank officials.
By week three, after several surgeries, Wilson’s doctors became cautiously optimistic, according to close friend Peter Gerdin. At that point Gerdin, along with Wilson’s parents and co-workers, brought three motor homes to the Santa Rosa fairgrounds near the hospital to set up a support village for their man. It allowed a place for family and friends to stay while visiting him.
Wilson’s three children were in a constant rotation around his bedside while he remained in a coma for seven weeks. His son put college on hold and his wife stayed for a four-month stint in one of the motor homes.
“I think he felt ” even in his most critical stage, I think he felt Lindy’s presence,” Gerdin says.
Lindy looks over a list she had written to keep track of the more than 15 community members and agencies that were in involved in helping the couple during her husband’s hardest times.
“Some of our friends came in and remodeled our house to make it wheelchair accessible,” Lindy says. “There were so many people trying to help we didn’t know what to do. Every day they came with food and gift certificates and cash. We were overwhelmed.”
The couple will hold a “Celebration of Jim’s Recovery” party Oct. 27 to thank the community and church support.
“They are just such caring people and they would do anything for anyone, and that was contagious,” Gerdin says of why there was such an outpouring.
“[Hospital officials] said ‘we’ve had 400 calls for Jim and we’ve only got one switchboard,'” recalls Lindy. “They began to ask if he was the mayor of Truckee.”
At Tahoe Center for Health and Sports Performance, Wilson presses weight on a Pilates Reformer, a spring-loaded machine that has helped him recover lost muscle and nurse him from a post-accident weight of 112 pounds back to 145.
“He doesn’t like to stop,” says physical therapy aide Sean McIntire. “When I ask if he’s done 30 [reps] yet ” he says no, 50.”
Still recovering from the compound leg fracture that drove bone through skin, Wilson says he enjoyed hiking and skiing before his accident. Nowadays he is motivated to achieve a different goal ” to walk without assistance so he can return to work.
Eight months after doctors told Lindy they were considering amputating her husband’s leg he was out of his wheelchair. Now Wilson wants to ditch the walker he needs to support his healthy weight.
“My goal is to get back to work,” Wilson says. “I have no intention to be an invalid.”
Steve Hollabaugh, Truckee Donner Public Utility District assistant general manager, says he still calls Wilson, the former electric superintendent for the district, for technical questions. Hollabaugh says he expects Wilson to return to his former position in the future.
Before the accident Wilson and his wife regularly attended the Sierra Bible Church in Reno. Wilson, the former Deacon in charge of the church’s adult education program, returned in August to attend Sunday service to a crowd of tearful friends. Executive Pastor David Smith says five pastors and several church elders went to see Wilson in the hospital to “lay hands on him.”
“From that point on there was a difference in his recovery,” Smith says. “The doctors and nurses all confirmed it ” I can’t explain it. It was God.”
Wilson attributes his miraculous recovery to a “lot of praying.”
“God had something to do with it ” even the doctors said so,” he says.
Although Wilson now attends church regularly, the executive pastor jokes about friend’s future responsibilities.
“As soon as you get better, brother, you’ve got a lot to do,” chuckles Smith.
Wilson and his wife were high school sweet hearts and were married in 1980. They now have three grown children and two grandchildren, the youngest of whom, Luke, four months old, Wilson has not yet met.
Their son Adam will attend the “Celebration of Jim’s Recovery” while on a 10-day leave from the Air Force before being deployed to Turkey.
This weekend will mark the first time the entire family will be together since before the accident.
“We had become empty-nesters before this happened,” Lindy says.
Wilson acknowledges that his recovery has not been easy as he nods his head toward his wife of 27 years.
“It’s hard on Lindy ” 80 percent of couples get divorced. We had a strong marriage to begin with,” Wilson says.
“He’s my friend. I can’t breathe without him,” says Lindy. “We’re going to make it.”
Jim and Lindy would like to thank the outpouring of community support by holding a thank-you party on Saturday, Oct. 27 from 1 to 5 p.m. The couple will welcome family and friends to the Tahoe Donner Northwoods Clubhouse for live music, refreshments and snacks.