Author Philip Yancey Survives SUV Accident
By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
ALAMOSA, COLORADO (ANS) -- Author and Christianity Today writer Philip Yancey was injured in an automobile accident Feb. 25, but has written about his experience in order to quell rumors that are circulating about what happened.
On his Web site www.philipyancey.com , the prolific writer of such books as The Jesus I Never Knew, and his latest book on prayer, Yancey says: "So many have called to express concern, and a few wild rumors have been floating around, so I thought it would be best to send out an 'official' report of my accident on Sunday, February 25. I'm OK! Honest."
Yancey says that he was driving alone on a remote highway after a busy weekend speaking in New Mexico. He was on a curvy but not too hilly road, driving at about 65 mph.
"A curve came up suddenly, and I turned to the left, perhaps too sharply. As you may know, Ford Explorers are rather notorious for fishtailing, and this one did. I tried to correct, but as best as I can reconstruct what happened, my tire slipped off the edge of the asphalt onto the dirt. That started the Explorer rolling over sideways, at least three times and probably more.
Amazingly, Yancey says, the vehicle stopped right side up.
"All windows were blown out, and skis, boots, laptop computer, and suitcases were strewn over 100 feet or so in the dirt. I tried my hands and legs and they worked fine. I was able to unbuckle the seat belt and walk away. Within five minutes a couple of cars stopped and their occupants, Mormons on the way to church, called for help."
Yancey says he had a lot of minor cuts and bruises on his face and limbs, but except for a persistent nosebleed, nothing serious.
"I did have intense pain in my neck, though. When the ambulance came, they strapped me into a rigid body board, taping my head still and immobilizing it with a neck brace. It took almost an hour to reach the town of Alamosa in southern Colorado."
Yancey continues: "Looking back now, I see so many mini-miracles that all contributed to a good outcome. The Mormons (two of whom were E.M.T. trained) traveling that route on a Sunday morning. The most experienced X-ray/MRI technician, normally off on weekends, filling in for a sick colleague. The E. R. doctor, featured that day on the cover of the local paper, a graduate of the University of Michigan med school who had just returned to his small town in Colorado to be of service. And, most of all, the injury itself."
The author says that Alamosa has no radiologist on duty over the weekend, so all images had to be modemed to Australia (where it was Monday morning, a normal work day) for interpretation.
"The images are so dense that the high-speed transmittal takes an hour, and then the diagnosis can take another hour. After the initial batch, the doctor came in with those prefatory words no patient wants to hear: 'There's no easy way to say this, Mr. Yancey.' I had broken the C-3 vertebra in a 'comminuted' fashion. (I didn't know that word either; look it up and the dictionary says 'pulverized.')
"The good news was that the break did not occur in the spinal cord column itself. If it had, well, C-2 is where Christopher Reeve's break occurred, so you get the picture of what can happen up there. The spinal column has three channels, one for the spinal cord, and two for arterial blood supply, which is where my fracture occurred. The bad news was that due to the splintered nature of the break, a bone fragment may well have nicked or penetrated an artery."
"We have a jet standing by if needed to airlift you to Denver," the doctor explained. "We'll do another MRI, this time with an iodine dye solution to reveal any possible leakage from the artery. This is a life-threatening situation."
Meanwhile Yancey's wife, Janet, whom he had called from the ambulance, had scrambled to throw things together and begin the drive to Alamosa (4 hours from Evergreen) to be with him.
"Our Good Samaritan neighbor Mark insisted on going with her, a magnificent gift as it freed her to make phone calls and compose herself during that tense drive. They were about halfway to Alamosa when the doctor gave her this news via phone, explaining that if they found arterial leakage they could not hold the plane for her; I would be shipped immediately."
Yancey explained: "You would have to use a cell phone in Colorado to understand some of the tension here: about every third word gets dropped and, in the mountains, the call cuts off every thirty seconds or so. Poor Janet was trying to decide whether to turn around and drive back to Denver or continue on to Alamosa, with the possibility of watching my jet contrails in the sky above her."
Yancey went in for the iodine-dye scan, and then was left alone to wait for the transmission to Australia and the results.
"In all, I lay strapped onto that body board for seven hours. The emergency room was quite busy that day, mostly crying babies. I had plenty of time to think. I've done articles on people whose lives have been changed overnight by an accident that left them paraplegic or quadriplegic. Evidently I had narrowly missed that fate; and I mean narrowly -- my break was about one-half inch from the spinal cord. However, if my artery was leaking, an artery that feeds the brain, or if it threw a clot, well, a fate worse than paralysis awaited me."
The author says he stayed calm throughout, with his pulse holding steady around 70.
"And as I lay there, contemplating what I had just been teaching in Los Alamos about prayer, and facing the imminent possibility of death for the first time, I felt very peaceful. I reflected on what a wonderful life I have had, with a life-giving marriage partner of 37 years, all but three of Colorado's 54 14,000-foot mountains under my belt, adventures in more than 50 countries, work that allows me both meaning and total freedom.
"Just that weekend I had heard again story after story of people who have been touched by one of my books. I looked back on my life and felt no regrets (well, I would like to get those last three fourteeners climbed). And as I thought of what may await me, I felt a feeling of great trust. No one raised in the kind of church environment I grew up in totally leaves behind the acrid smell of fire and brimstone, but I felt an overwhelming sense of trust in God. I have come to know a God of compassion and mercy and love. I have no clue what heaven or an afterlife will be like but I felt sustained by that trust. OK, the morphine drip was beginning to kick in too!"
Those were the tense hours for the Yanceys. "Janet riding down the road with our neighbor, feeling helpless and unsure, with scenes of how her life would change with a dead or paralyzed husband; and me utterly helpless, strapped on a table with the images that would determine my future bouncing off some satellite en route to Australia."
Yancey continues: "As it happened, thank God--oh, yes, thank God--the results were far better than either of us could imagine. The MRI revealed no arterial leakage. I was released within half an hour of Janet's arrival, fitted with a rigid neck brace that will keep my head from moving for the next 10 weeks or so. If all goes well, the vertebra may heal back appropriately on its own; if not, I may need surgery down the road."
Yancey says he got a hot meal, his first of the day, and began the drive back to Evergreen.
"Before midnight I was sitting in a bathtub discovering new cuts and abrasions, warming up, and getting ready for a challenging night's sleep in my own bed."
Yancey concludes that he is "profoundly grateful to so many who put the word out, who prayed and continue to pray for my recovery."
"I'm sure I will face new challenges, and my schedule over the next few months definitely needs some major adjustments. But I am alive, my fingers and toes are moving, my brain is functioning. I remember sitting in the seat of the Ford Explorer as it finally stopped rolling, with its engine still running, and thinking, 'This begins chapter two of my life.' Indeed it does, though with considerably brighter prospects than it seemed at the time.
"I hope to ski long mogul runs again, albeit not till next year, and I have another chance to climb those last three 14ers, to gaze at the wild flowers along the way, to cherish friends and love my wife and family and thank God for every minute of this precious gift of life. Praise God."
Read about Philip's latest book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?
Visit Philip Yancey's Web site
Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is the Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Lake Forest, California. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in September, 1995. He is married with two children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station.
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