On Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 I was involved in a fatal-critical injury motorcycle accident with a brand new F-150 Ford pickup truck in Wichita, Kansas. It was a beautiful day, the temperature was ideal for riding, not too cold or too hot. It was just right for only a jacket without any need to wear riding chaps or full gloves.
I was returning home from my annual blood workup at the Bob Dole VA Center. At that point in my life, I was not a “religious” man, and that is putting it mildly. An “unapologetic agnostic with an attitude” would be a better description. I was not looking for a “spiritual conversion” to begin on that day either—I was simply trying to get home from my VA appointment and eat lunch. God had other plans for me that day, though, and He showed me great mercies and miracles. The accident literally killed me twice, and I sustained a class II brain sheer that should have left me with a massive mechanical stroke. Thankfully, I was saved from the consequences of this brain injury.
There was no way that I even came close to being “worthy” of such divine interventions. Actually, I was about as far away from anything like that as anyone could possibly get, yet God saved me from my own folly in order to educate me in His ways, and salvation through the blood of His son, Jesus Christ, for the many and egregious sins of my life. Much of what follows is from first, second and third hand information from witnesses and bystanders.
Angels and Miracles
There were many “angels” that day that kept me from dying permanently (Ps. 91:11). Following are five of my miracles:
By the grace of God, the woman who got to me first was a Marine Corps Reserve Corporal (E-4) and an off duty EMT for the county. She was at a credit union just across the street, and just a little north of where the accident occurred. As she was leaving, she saw me fly through the air, noticing the large USMC patch on the back of my black leather vest. She played like the Dukes of Hazard in leaving that parking lot, getting into the street to keep me from getting run over by oncoming traffic. I had been thrown across the median and three or four lanes of traffic, depending on which witness statement you read. She called the accident directly to the ambulance team that she knew was going to be sent by the 911 dispatch.
“We haven’t even gotten any call from…”
“Roll! It’s my job if I’m wrong. Now roll!’” They took off out of their ready room, jumped into their ambulance and were already rolling three minutes before they even got the 911 call from county dispatch.
I have absolutely no memory of the accident itself; all I remember was a shadow on my right and then the lights went out. I had three brief lucid moments—seconds actually—that were several minutes apart. In the first one I was face down in the street, having a very difficult time even breathing and hearing a female voice hollering at someone. That one lasted maybe five seconds.
During the second one I was looking up at a very beautiful blue sky and I was breathing a little easier. I was able to give my and my (now) ex-wife’s names, as well as our home and her cell phone numbers. That time lasted maybe 15 seconds.
The last one was very faint—only five, maybe 10 seconds, when the cold scissors hit my right wrist as my jacket was being cut off. I think I was in the ambulance. All I can remember was I said, “Don’t cut my leathers…” The male voice I heard back said, “We were able to save your vest colors, but the jacket has to go.”
The normal on site time that it usually takes for an ambulance team to assess the damage and transport the victims of an accident (15-20 minutes) was reduced to five minutes to load and leave. This happened only because an EMT was there, with her medical expertise and connections through her work with the county. It took that ambulance team more time to get the paperwork done with the policemen, on site, than it took to load me up to go.
By the grace of God, the second woman who got to me was sitting directly across the street, one building south of where the EMT had launched into the street. She was having a late lunch with her daughter and grandson at a deli. She also happened to be the off duty senior ER surgical nurse at Via Christi St. Francis Hospital trauma unit. She was calling into the nurse that had just relieved her from duty about an hour before to apprise them of my condition and to prepare for my arrival (she was still in her medical scrubs). Again, not only was she there, with her medical expertise, assisting to prepare the ambulance team while they were on their way through their EMT member that was there, but she was also advising the ER and surgical personnel at the hospital where I was heading.
By the grace of God, the trauma surgeons on duty that day were the best that could be had at St. Francis for such a situation as I was in, having the necessary “attitude” of never quitting regardless of circumstances. Even then, I died twice on the table that afternoon and evening from loss of blood. I had two visions that I believe were associated with these two events (brain trying to check out). I was told that on both occasions of dying, the head surgeon was calling “Time!” meaning that I had flat-lined for so long he was about to write up a death certificate. But by the grace of God, I came back, both times. Several times during that surgery there were six bags of blood being “pushed” into me and I was being drained out into five gallon buckets. I say this just so you can completely understand how badly I was bleeding out.
By the grace of God, from the moment that I was hit through all the preliminaries that are done before the surgeon made his first cut, only 40 minutes had passed. Under any normal circumstances, that time would have exceeded an hour or more and I would have been dead by the time I got to the hospital, if not in the ambulance while en route.
My ex-wife and many of my riding and political friends were fervently praying for my life, in whatever condition I could be saved, which led to several Facebook postings and prayer chains being activated. Within 24 hours there were literally thousands praying for me and my family, all over the country and the world. I am still amazed at the scope and depth of the outpouring of care and concern on my behalf.
He’s not going to make it
I suffered a severe traumatic brain injury called a class II brain sheer (yes, I was wearing my helmet at the time).
There are only three kinds of brain sheers: a class I is the kind that boxers get, a class III is the kind that generally leaves people in a vegetative state for the rest of their lives, and a class II is the kind that causes a massive stroke. I also suffered massive internal damage down the right side of my body. The surgeon told my ex-wife, “You need to make preparations for a funeral. He is not going to survive this surgery; he has about a two percent chance of surviving this.” The surgery was done twice, that afternoon/evening, and again the next morning. My ex-wife said then, “Don’t bet on it! You don’t know who you’re dealing with here!” because I had been a member of the Marines Corps Recon units.
Little did she know how right she was, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it. They did that same surgery again 10 hours later to complete what they couldn’t get to the night before—making my survival odds only 0.4%. There was one other occasion that I briefly flat-lined, and by the grace of God my ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law were in room when it first started. After a minute or so they noticed that the machines connected to me were sounding their respective alarms. The breathing tube had been removed some five hours before and by this time I had stopped breathing and had turned black. They alerted the medical staff of the alarms going off, again saving my life. I got an emergency tracheotomy done then. I had died three times in five days.
Broken, crushed, lacerated
My injuries were extensive: all the ribs on the right side were broken at least twice with the two long ones being broken in six places. The first break on all of them was in a straight line one and a half inches off my spine. The right lung collapsed three times over the first two weeks; my diaphragm was bruised on the right end; pancreas was lacerated; right kidney was lacerated; gall bladder was lacerated; right side of the liver was crushed; the ascending via cava (large vein) was torn open at the liver junction; stomach was lacerated; colon was lacerated. It did not become known until February 2015 that I also had two small holes in my small intestine just below my stomach. That last one put me into the hospital seven times last year—five surgeries in all, four or five months in two different hospitals here in Wichita. Even in that God blessed me, and allowed me to aid that surgeon. But, that’s another story.
As I stated earlier, the brain injury should have caused a massive stroke. However–praise God–because of the massive loss of blood I never had sufficient blood pressure to get the class II brain sheer mechanical stroke.
It took a week, or more, to stabilize my blood pressure. I spent 10 days in a coma, the first five of which I had to be restrained to the bed because my body was in some sort of a grand seizure. After the coma ended I was a complete amnesiac, and I mean complete. My brain did not even start memory functions for 3 – 5 weeks.
Let’s get this done!
After I was released from the VA ICU, around the middle of November, I got to go home to await a bed opening in Minneapolis VA specialty care unit. I was sent to the VA Regional Hospital in Minneapolis to the TBI specialty care ward. I still had significant brain impairment that had to be addressed, like speaking, eating, basic hygiene, the works.
The first day I was there, I went outside to have a couple cigarettes. While sitting in my wheelchair in my own little pity-pot, God sent me another angel. I was looking down at the ground in front of me, in my winter patient clothing. This was the winter that the Viking’s Metrodome in Minneapolis fell in from the snow loading on it. I saw a set of feet shuffling in—I don’t know how else to describe it, except as “happy feet.” Then I heard this awful guttural speaking sound coming out and I looked up. I was completely horrified.
There was a young man standing in front of me, an Iraq veteran not even 30 years old, with literally half of his head blown away. It was completely gone! I could not believe what I was seeing, partly because I had been hallucinating at various times when I was in the Wichita VA hospital. When I got back to the TBI ward, I asked the head nurse if what I had seen was real and what was going on. She told me, “Yes, it’s real. He should have died and never made it home. It was close for almost a year. He has been here now for six years; he is never going to leave this place, but he’s happy.”
Rehab was extremely difficult those few days as I thought about that young man. He was the inspiration I needed at that time. I said to myself, Suck it up Buttercup, and let’s get this done! If that kid can survive his injuries, you’ve got no excuse. I had been an NCO in USMC, in 1st RECON battalion. From then on I attacked all of my therapy as hard as I could. I finished an initial six-week evaluation course, successfully, in two and half weeks. I was home for Christmas.
While I was in that coma after the accident, the doctors could not figure out why I was in the coma because there was no blood showing on my brain to account for it, nor the seizure I was then having. So, specialist after specialist looked and evaluated, each one doing their own differing CT scans. I got 13 of them in those in five days, with the old high dose radiation kind. Right after my stay the hospital was changing to the new low dose CT machines. I had been fighting radiation sickness since I was first in the VA ICU and it was not discovered until January 2011. On that day, I left some amount of hair on my deodorant stick, left a lot more hair on my hair brush, and upon a closer look at my fingernails, I had small white lines across every one of them at the same distance from my cuticles. It occurred on every toenail as well.
I had gone from 217 pounds on the day of the accident to 132 pounds in January 2011, which was my lowest weight in all of this. It was very difficult to eat or drink anything for some time–even water tasted nasty. Coke tasted like battery acid and any food tasted like old sloppy, moldy cardboard.
My recovery took multiple surgeries over the next six months, and the last official surgery was done September 2013. It took a long time for me to mend as much as I have. But praise God, He allowed me to survive, and to learn many things from that process including an understanding of His mercies and the love He holds for us all. I had been an independent aircraft contractor, cabinet builder, interior installer and, at the time of the accident, a time-line inspector. My livelihood was in reading and understanding complicated blueprints with their various meanings.
After my accident I could not make heads nor tails of a set of prints I still had at home. I went from a 185 IQ to a 125 IQ. People just don’t understand this 60 point loss. It would be like a 100 point normal person losing 25 percent of their mental processing. I was mentally and physically “challenged,” and I was forced into medical retirement because of my injuries and my age.
“Some Special Purpose”
My ex-wife told me, “God spared your life for some special purpose. You had better figure out what that is.” My two younger brothers are also Adventists and I had subconsciously leaned in that direction for years. This all brought me to the Prophecy Seminar at Three Angles Church in August and September 2013, presented by Brian McMahon.
I took on faith a passage of healing that he spoke about and I stopped smoking—cold turkey—after 42 years. I had suspected God’s hand in all that had happened to me up until that moment, which was when I fully realized that God’s hand was fully involved in my life. That was when I also knew that Jesus had brought me to Three Angels Church.
They wanted to baptize me then, but I had just had surgery done on my left elbow, a very large cut across my elbow and up the arm a bit, and I was black and blue from my armpit to my wrist. I was deathly afraid of an infection.
The greatest grief
As any good husband should, I desired my (then) wife to come to know these biblical truths that I had found. Because of my understandings of them, I was going to be baptized for the first time in my life. She and I went together to many classes over the next few months. I continued to go to services there every Sabbath as I went through the pre-baptism classes. She went less and less as the months wore on and eventually I was going by myself.
Her family knew what she and I were doing and they strongly disapproved of it. I was baptized on Feb. 22, 2014. She was there and gave a testimony that day. The following week, without any warning or even an attempt to discuss marriage counseling, I was thrown out of my own home, back into the cold, lonely streets, from where I had come years before. The following Sabbath I was served divorce papers in the church parking lot.
It was the greatest grief of my entire life and, after 18 years of marriage, the strongest challenge to my new-found faith that I could have ever imagined at that time. My ex-wife was raised in another denomination; she was the only child of one of the two remaining matriarchs of their family (both in their 90s). Of the 12 original children of their founding farming family, the two sisters were the youngest. They are a very close extended family, including cousins and children.
Without the emotional strength that God has given to me, the church family that I had come to know, and my faith that this would all work out for the best somehow, I would have walked away from this church that I had just joined and the ministry that I had involved myself in. That would have been my way before the accident, along with many serious self-destructive behaviors that anger and depression had brought me before.
SKMM: Finding a new family
I had joined the Sabbath Keepers Motorcycle Ministries (SKMM) here in Wichita, in their discipleship program (“prospecting”), three months before being baptized. SKMM is an outreach ministry to the motorcycle community and the “outlaw” bikers found there. It was started in Hollister, California. My younger brother, John, is the VP of the second charter in Bakersfield, California. We also present our ministry here to various interested Adventist churches throughout the state of Kansas, to not only solicit financial support for our difficult ministry efforts, but also to recruit new members to our ministry.
Kansas has now become a stand-alone group for SKMM. Due to a unique set of circumstances in Kansas, we have separated ourselves from the International headquarters in California, in order to function here with the various groups that we must deal with. Basically this is because “no new national clubs will be allowed in Kansas.”
Don’t ask, because it still doesn’t make much sense to me either. It’s a turf thing and we cannot fit into this motorcycle community and minister to them if we are violating KCOC (Kansas Confederation Of Clubs) community rules and standards. The group in Wichita was started through Cornerstone Seventh-day Adventist Church three years ago and this charter “patched” 15 members at one time. God truly blessed our efforts here because we were the largest charter in the world at the time, right out of the gate! Today we have combined three charters in this state into one, with 24 members currently in the Kansas-SKMM.
My experience is sort of like the story of Saul on the road to Damascus. As a result of the accident and its immediate aftermath, my brothers and sisters in SKMM now call me “Lazarus.”
Jim Gragg, aka “Lazarus,” is a member of the Wichita Three Angels Church in Wichita, Kansas.