My Miraculous Family


"There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them."

I never considered myself unique, but people are constantly telling me I am a miracle. To me, I was just an ordinary guy with realistic goals and big dreams. I was a nineteen-year-old student at the University of Texas and well on my way toward fulfilling my dream of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

On the night of February 17, 1981, I was studying for an organic chemistry test at the library with Sharon, my girlfriend of three years. It was quite late, so Sharon had asked me to drive her back to her dormitory. We got into my car, not realizing at the time that just getting into a car would never quite be the same for me again. I quickly noticed that my gas gauge was on empty, so I pulled into a nearby convenience store to buy two dollarsí worth of gas. "Iíll be back in two minutes," I yelled to Sharon as I closed the door. Instead, those two minutes changed my life forever.

Entering the convenience store was like entering the twilight zone. Outside the store I was a healthy, athletic, pre-med student, but on the inside I became just another violent crime statistic. The store appeared to be empty as I entered, but suddenly I realized it was not empty at all. Three men were in the process of committing a robbery, and my entrance had caught them by surprise. One of the criminals shoved a .38-caliber handgun to my head, ordered me to the cooler, pushed me down on the floor and pumped a bullet Ė execution style Ė into the back of my head. He obviously thought I was dead because he did not shoot me again. The trio of thieves finished robbing the store and left calmly.

Meanwhile, Sharon wondered why I had not returned. After seeing the three men leave the store she really began to worry, since I was the last person she saw entering. She quickly went inside to look for me, but saw no one Ė only an open cash register containing one check and several pennies. Frantically she ran down each aisle shouting, "Mike, Mike!"

Just then the attendant appeared from the back of the store yelling, "Lady, get down on the floor! Iíve just been robbed and shot at!"

Sharon quickly dropped to the floor screaming, "Have you seen my boyfriend Ö auburn hair?" The man did not reply but went back to the cooler where he found me choking on my vomit. The attendant immediately called for the police and an ambulance.

Sharon was in shock. She was starting to understand that I was hurt, but she could not begin to comprehend or imagine the severity of my injury.

When the police arrived they called the homicide division as they did not think I would survive. The paramedic reported that she had never seen a person survive who was so severely wounded. At 1:30 a.m. my parents, who lived in Houston, were awakened by a telephone call from Brackenridge Hospital advising them to come to Austin as soon as possible. They feared I would not make it through the night.

Surprisingly, I did make it through the night, and early in the morning the neurosurgeon decided to operate. However, he informed my family and Sharon that my chances of surviving the surgery were only four out of ten. The neurosurgeon further shocked my family by telling them what life would be like for me if I beat the odds and survived. He said I probably would never walk, talk or be able to understand even simple commands.

My family was hoping and praying to hear even the slightest bit of encouragement from the doctor. Instead, his pessimistic words gave my family no reason to believe that I would ever again be a productive member of society. Once again I beat the odds and survived the three-and-a-half hours of surgery.

Even though my family breathed a huge sigh of relief that I was still alive, the doctor cautioned that it would still be several days before I would be out of danger. However, with each passing day I became stronger and stronger, and two weeks later I was well enough to be moved from the ICU to a private room.

Granted, I still could not talk, my entire right side was paralyzed and many people thought I could not understand them, but at least I was stable. After one week in a private room the doctors felt I had improved enough to be transferred by jet ambulance to Del Oro Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston.

My hallucinations, coupled with my physical problems, made my prognosis still very bleak. But as time passed my mind began to clear. Approximately six weeks later my right leg began to move ever so slightly. Within sever weeks my right arm slowly began to move, and at eight weeks I uttered my first few words.

My speech was extremely difficult and slow in the beginning, but at least it was a start. I was looking forward to each new day to see how far I would progress. But just as I thought my life was finally looking brighter I was tested by the hospital neuropsychologist. She explained that, judging from my test results, she believed that I should not return to college but should set more "realistic goals."

Upon hearing her evaluation I became furious. I thought, Who is she to tell me what I can or cannot do? She does not even know me. I am a very determined and stubborn person! I believe it was at that very moment that I decided I would somehow, someday return to college.

It took a long time and a lot of hard work, but I finally returned to the University of Texas in the fall of 1983 Ė a year and a half after almost dying. The next few years in Austin were very difficult, but I truly believe that in order to see beauty in life you must experience some unpleasantness. I resolved to live each day to the fullest and did the very best I could.

Besides attending classes at the university I underwent therapy three to five days each week at Brackenridge Hospital. I also flew to Houston every other weekend to work with Tom Williams, a trainer and executive who had worked for many colleges and professional teams, helping injured athletes, such as Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson. Through Tom I learned: "Nothing is impossible and never, never give up or quit."

He echoed the same words and sentiments of a prominent neurosurgeon from Houston, Dr. Alexander Gol, a close personal friend of my parents who drove to Austin with my family that traumatic February morning. I received many opinions from various therapists and doctors but it was Dr. Gol who told my family to take one day at a time, for no matter how bad the situation looked, no one knew for certain what the brain could do.

Early in my therapy, my father kept repeating to me one of his favorite sayings. It could have been written by Tom or Dr. Gol, and I have repeated it almost every day since being hurt: "Mile by mile itís a trial; yard by hard itís hard; but inch by inch itís a cinch."

I thought of those words, and of Dr. Gol, Tom, my family and Sharon who believed so strongly in me, as I climbed the steps to receive my diploma from the dean of liberal arts at the University of Texas on a sunny afternoon in June 1986. Excitement and pride filled my heart as I heard the dean announce that I had graduated with "highest honors," was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and had been chosen as one of twelve Deanís Distinguished Graduates out of sixteen hundred students in the College of Liberal Arts.

The overwhelming emotions and feelings that I experienced that day, when most of the audience gave me a standing ovation, would never again be matched in my life Ė not even when I graduated with a masterís degree in social work and not even when I became employed full time at the Texas Pain and Stress Center. But I was wrong!

On May 24, 1987, I realized that nothing could ever match the joy I felt as Sharon and I were married. Sharon, my high school sweetheart of nine years, had always stood by me, through good times and bad.

To me, Sharon is my miracle, my diamond in a world filled with problems, hurt and pain. Sharon dropped out of school when I was hurt so that she could constantly be at my side. She never wavered or gave up on me.

Her faith and love pulled me through so many dark days. While other nineteen-year-old girls were going to parties and enjoying life, Sharon devoted her life to my recovery. That, to me, is the true definition of love.

After our beautiful wedding I continued working part-time at the Pain Center and completed my work for a masterís degree while Sharon worked as a speech pathologist at a local hospital. We were extremely happy, but even more so when we learned Sharon was pregnant.

On July 11, 1990, at 12:15 a.m. Sharon woke me with the news: "We need to go to the hospital Ö my water just broke." I couldnít help but think how ironic it was that my life almost ended in a convenience store and now on the date "7-11" we were about to bring a new life into this world. This time it was my turn to help Sharon as she had helped me over those past years.

Sharon was having contractions about every two minutes, and each time she needed to have her lower back massaged. Since she was in labor for fifteen hours that meant 450 massages! It was well worth every bit of pain in my fingers because at 3:10 p.m. Sharon and I experienced the birth of our beautiful daughter, Shawn Elyse Segal!

Tears of joy and happiness came to my eyes as our healthy, alert, wonderful daughter entered this world. We anxiously counted her ten fingers and her ten toes and watched her wide eyes take in the world about her. It was truly a beautiful picture that will be etched in my mind forever as she lay in her motherís waiting arms, just minutes after her birth. At that moment I thanked God for blessing us with the greatest miracle of all.

Michael Jordan Segal msegalhope@aol.com

Michael Segal is a social worker at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas, an author, and inspirational and motivational speaker. Mike's story, "My Miraculous Family," was published in "Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul." Mike lives in Houston with his highschool sweetheart, Sharon, and their daughter, Shawn.

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