Athletics had always been the most important thing in my life. In fact, at the age of fifty-five, at six foot six, he had just tried out for the Michigan senior men’s Olympic volleyball team, and there was every chance he would make it.
Then the tragedy happened. In a motorcycle accident, I shattered my left leg. Doctors prescribed amputation. Before the surgery, as I lay in my hospital bed discussing with family and friends what life would be like without a leg, a young medical assistant named Sarah Scholl said, “Andy, what kind of golf balls do you play?”
That was an idiotic question, but I told him, “Titleist Pro V1.” The next morning, next to my bed was a pack of 12 Titleist Pro V1 golf balls. Sarah’s gift gave me a ray of hope.
When I woke up after the operation, I was surprised to look down and see two legs and ten toes. Fortunately, the doctors had decided that my leg had enough circulation to try to save it. But months of rehabilitation awaited him. In a later operation, I almost died on the table.
When it was time to transfer me to a rehabilitation hospital, Sarah took me to the ambulance. “I have a favor to ask of you,” she said. “My father died some time ago. When I get married, I want you to walk me down the aisle.”
“Sarah, it’s doubtful I’ll ever walk anywhere. Besides, you don’t even have a boyfriend.”
“One day I will,” he said.
Hope and love
At the rehab hospital, where I had pretty much reconciled myself to living the rest of my life in a wheelchair, I got a call from John Wilder, my volleyball coach. “Congratulations, Andy, you made the team! You’re playing in the Senior Olympics.”
I told him about my accident and waited for him to say that he would miss having me on the team. But Wilder surprised me: “You get better. I’ll play you if you can stand up.”
His words lit a spark. I went to rehab with a vengeance. Seven months later I was able to present myself to the Olympic Games for Seniors. Although he could barely stand, John was true to his word: he put me in the game.
When it was my turn to serve, I looked over at my wife, Kay, sitting in the bleachers. I usually avoided my sporting events. He couldn’t blame her; I had always put sports before her in my life. But today Kay was not only present, she was beaming. As I looked at his radiant smile, I lost it, right there on the court. Suddenly I understood why God had allowed this accident. He cared a lot about our marriage.
I picked up enough to serve. We won that game and the next. As the competition intensified, the coach had to take me out, but our team won the gold medal.
life from death
Back home, my health continued to improve. Then all of a sudden my liver stopped working. In major surgery, the doctors got around him with a bypass. That saved my life, but the unfiltered blood that reached my brain made my hands shake so violently that I had to sit on them. I requested a liver transplant and waited.
A year passed, then two. No call from the transplant hospital. How do you pray for a transplant? For me to live, someone else had to die. What makes me better than someone else’s husband or someone else’s father?
One day it occurred to me that this was not the first time that someone needed to die so that I could live. Jesus had done that for me. If God loved me that much, I could trust him with my future.
In what seemed like a divinely inspired conversation, Kay and I learned that Indiana had twice as many registered organ donors as Michigan. So we rented an apartment in Indianapolis and applied for a transplant. Two months later we received a call: a man had died in an accident; I was one of ten transplant candidates who would benefit.
through the valley
The speed of my recovery amazed the doctors. For the first time in five years I subscribed to a magazine under my name. But I pushed rehab too hard. While doing sit-ups, I tore the incision in my abdominal muscles. During emergency surgery, the doctors placed mesh inside my abdomen and sewed the muscles in place. A tube was inserted through my nose into my stomach to pump fluids.
After the surgery, I had to sit in bed in one position without moving and without eating. Time passed so slowly that the second The hand of the clock seemed to have stopped. One day dragged by… two days… three days… how much longer would this agony last? I have never felt so desperate and miserable.
Around 4:00 am on the fourth night – the longest night of my life – I cried out to God, “Lord, take me! I can’t take it anymore.” Kay was by my side, where she had faithfully been since my accident. She mumbled, “Me neither.” At that point, Kay and I gave up completely. We were at the absolute bottom of the valley, the blackest hole we could imagine.
Fifteen minutes later, our surgeon walked into the room unexpectedly and said, “I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like something had changed.” He checked my vital signs. We can remove the tube. At the end of that day I was walking. A month later, I went back to work full time.
Jumping and walking for joy
My left leg had no nerves so I thought my volleyball days were over. But my exercise therapist had an idea. He tied my knees and ankles so I could jump rope. I worked up to two jumps…then six…then twenty! I was so excited that I called out to an old volleyball buddy, “Hey Tim, I can jump!”
“That’s great! We have a volleyball tournament in Milwaukee in two weeks. Come play?” It seemed over the top, but two weeks later, at the last minute, I decided to go. When I showed up, my former teammates stood up and cheered. It was an emotional scene.
The first five games were tough, but in the sixth I got a perfect set and a legitimate kill. A few minutes later I blocked the game point. That taught me an important lesson: don’t waste time wishing you could do the impossible. Do your best and sometimes the impossible happens.
After the match, I thanked my old coach, John Wilder, for inspiring me early on. “You’re the one who deserves the credit,” John said. “You never gave up.”
“Actually, John, I gave up, but God never gave up on me.”
In 2009, seven years after my accident, I received an email from Sarah Scholl: “I have a boyfriend, do you want to come?”
What a joy it was to walk, not in a wheelchair, but walking, Sarah down the aisle.
Andy DeVries is director of development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A full journal of his trip is posted on caringbridge.org under the name “andydevries”.
His website has had more than 25,000 visits.
2011 Andy DeVries