This is the remarkable story of Michael Segal, you will not believe he survived this.
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 19-year-old student at the University of Texas and well on my way toward fulfilling my “big dream” of one day 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. Sharon had asked me to drive her back to her dormitory as it was getting quite late. We got into my car, not realizing that just getting into a car would never quite be the same for me again. I quickly noticed that my gas gauge was registered on empty so I pulled into a nearby convenience store to buy $2.00 worth of gas. “I’ll be back in two minutes,” I yelled at Sharon as I closed the door. But instead, those two minutes changed my life forever.
Entering the convenience store was like entering the twilight zone. On the outside I was a healthy, athletic, pre-med student, but on the inside I was just another statistic of a violent crime. I thought I was entering an empty store, but suddenly I realized it was not empty at all. Three robbers were in the process of committing a robbery and my entrance into the store caught them by surprise. One of the criminals immediately shoved a .38 caliber handgun to my head, ordered me to the cooler, pushed me down on the floor, and pumped a bullet into the back of my head – execution style. 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 as I was the last person she saw entering the store. She quickly went inside to look for me, but saw no one — only an almost empty cash register containing one check and several pennies. Quickly she ran down each aisle shouting, “Mike, Mike!”
Just then the attendant appeared from the back of the store shouting, “Lady, get down on the floor. I’ve just been robbed and shot at!”
Sharon quickly dropped to the floor screaming, “Have you seen my boyfriend … auburn hair?” The man did not reply but went back to the cooler where he found me choking on my vomit. The attendant quickly cleaned my mouth and then called for the police and an ambulance.
Sharon was in shock. She was beginning 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 immediately called the homicide division as they did not think I would survive and the paramedic reported that she had never seen a person so severely wounded survive. 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 for they feared I would not make it through the night.
But I did make it through the night and early in the morning the neurosurgeon decided to operate. However, he quickly informed my family and Sharon that my chances of surviving the surgery were only 40/60. If this were not bad enough, 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 that doctor. Instead, his pessimistic words gave my family no reason to believe that I would ever again be a productive member of society. But 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, 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. However, as time passed my mind began to clear and approximately six weeks later my right leg began to move ever so slightly. Within seven 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 beginning. I was starting to look 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 europsychologist. She explained to me that judging from my test results she believed that I should not focus on returning to college but that it would be better to set more “realistic goals.”
Upon hearing her evaluation I became furious for 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 me a long time and a lot of hard work but I finally returned to the University of Texas in the fall of 1983 – a year and a half after almost dying. The next few years in Austin were very difficult for me, but I truly believe that in order to see beauty in life you have to experience some unpleasantness. Maybe I have experienced too much unpleasantness, but I believe in living each day to the fullest, and doing the very best I can.
And each new day was very busy and very full, for besides attending classes at the University I underwent therapy three to five days each week at Brackenridge Hospital. If this were not enough I flew to Houston every other weekend to work with Tom Williams, a trainer and executive who had worked for many colleges and professional teams and also had helped many 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, who was a close personal friend of my parents and who drove to Austin with my family in the middle of the night that traumatic February morning. Over the many months I received many opinions from different 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, during my therapy, my father kept repeating to me one of his favorite sayings. It could have been written by both Tom and Dr. Gol and I have repeated it almost every day since being hurt:
“Mile by mile it’s a trial; yard by yard it’s hard; but inch by inch it’s a cinch.”
I thought of those words, and I thought 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 that bright sunny afternoon in June of 1986. Excitement and pride filled my heart as I heard the dean announce that I had graduated with “highest honors” (grade point average of 3.885), been elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and been chosen as one of 12 Dean’s Distinguished Graduates out of 1600 in the College of Liberal Arts.
The overwhelming emotions and feelings that I experienced at that very moment, when most of the audience gave me a standing ovation, I felt would never again be matched in my life — not even when I graduated with a masters 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 and bad times. To me, Sharon is my miracle, my diamond in a world filled with problems, hurt, and pain. It was Sharon who 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.
It was her faith and love that 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 masters degree while Sharon worked as a speech pathologist at a local hospital. We were extremely happy, but even happier 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 …. my water just broke.” I couldn’t 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 15 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 10 fingers and her 10 toes and watched her wide eyes take in the world about her. It was truly a beautiful picture that was etched in my mind forever as she lie in her mother’s waiting arms, just minutes after her birth. At that moment I thanked God for blessing us with the greatest miracle of all — Shawn Elyse Segal
To learn more about Michael visit his website at www.inspirationbymike.com