Behind every great picture is a great story. Here is one of those stories:
Joe Warren had seen that look before. As a twenty-year traffic investigator for the Chattanooga Police Department, he had seen the look of loss and hopelessness. Often, first responders race to an accident scene, attempt a rescue, and then give each other that look. If a victim’s family members are present, first responders don’t make a lot of eye contact with them. It’s just too hard.
Joe was a family member this day. It was Friday, September 22, 2017. His 22-year-old son Michael Warren, an electrician, was working at a sewage pump station construction site in East Ridge. He fell more than forty feet off a platform, after stepping on to an unsecured area. It was the equivalent of falling from a four-story building. Chattanooga firefighters saved his life, using ropes and other specialized equipment to extricate him from the pit and stop the bleeding. They placed him on a back board, hoisting him on to the Life Force helicopter to Erlanger. Today Michael remembers only the sunlight, and the sound of the chopper.
“He didn’t have a chance”
The prognosis was bleak. He was placed in a medically induced coma, and would not awaken for two weeks. He had a broken pelvis, a broken femur, and several broken ribs. He had severed an artery, and was in and out of consciousness, losing blood. Sewage had gotten in one of his lungs, resulting in a dangerous infection and lung failure. Amazingly, his lung healed within ten days, to the surprise of his doctors.
During those frightening early days, his dad’s fellow officers rallied to his support. Joe said, “They knew what I was going through. Everywhere I looked, from the EMT’s, to the doctors in the hospital, the signs were not good. I had seen a lot of families say goodbye to their loved ones. I could read the doctors’ faces. It looked like Michael was so far gone, he didn’t have a chance.”
But Michael was not waging this battle alone. In addition to his parents Joe and Cathy, his grandparents, and co-workers at Adman Electric, he had a guardian angel by his side: Samantha Coburn.
Amid the tubes and hoses that were keeping him alive was the small hand of a young woman, attached tightly to Michael’s hand. Samantha and Michael had been dating for a year. Like Michael, she had a full-time job. But when life takes an unexpected turn, your priorities change. Samantha would not leave his side until he was back on his feet.
“That girl,” Joe Warren said, “is amazing. She would hold his hand for hours, from early in the morning until late at night, seven days a week.”
When Michael finally woke up, he was in a lot of pain. “I could tell,” Joe said, “but he wouldn’t dare say that to anybody. He is the toughest man I know.”
“First thing I remember,” Michael said, “was seeing Samantha by my side. That’s something I will never forget.”
Joe kept family and friends updated via Facebook. When Michael was finally out of the woods, Joe could smile for the first time in weeks. After observing his son’s x-ray, Joe posted, “It looks like most of Aisle 9 from Home Depot has been screwed and fastened into Michael’s pelvic bone!”
After twenty-five days, it was time to leave Erlanger. The doctors and ICU nurses had been outstanding. “They would check on me even if it wasn’t their shift,” Michael said.
Siskin Hospital was the next stop, for much-needed physical rehabilitation. He was not yet back on his feet. “I had lost all the strength in my legs,” Michael said. “I wanted to get better immediately, but I couldn’t put any weight on my legs. I told them I would do whatever it took, no matter how much it hurt.”
Michael’s dad beams with pride when he remembers those days. “Just a few weeks earlier I thought we had lost him. I should have known he would never give up. He’s an Eagle Scout. When he sets out to do something, he finishes it. He never gave up on himself, and Samantha made it all ten times easier.”
He adds, “This was nothing less than a miracle from God, how Michael survived. The firefighters, Life Force, and the surgeons were all amazing. But as one of the doctors put it, there was too much going against him for his healing to be just great medicine.”
A police motorcycle escort
He also remembers the ride home for his son when he was released from Siskin. “These guys I work with, from Lt. Austin Garrett to all the rest,” he said, “they set up a police motorcycle escort for him, in the rain, all the way from Siskin to the house.
It was one of the happiest days of our lives. Not long before that, they were planning a different kind of escort.”
The Warrens’ neighbors had pitched in, helping adapt the entrance to make life easier for Michael. Michael told his dad, “I don’t deserve all this attention.” Joe said, “I told him he absolutely did. He was the kid who repaired everybody’s car for free out in the school parking lot. He’s always done things for others. I told him it was okay to let people do something nice for him.”
By Thanksgiving he was using crutches, with Samantha still by his side at home. “She made the days go by faster,” he said. “We watched TV, played board games, and she would help me practice walking, even when a few steps would wear me out.”
Around Christmas, Samantha took him out in his wheelchair for some Taco Bell. “We just sat in the car and ate at Heritage Park,” Michael said. “It was so good to breathe some fresh air, and to be honest, Taco Bell never tasted better.”
Planning a special hike
As the new year arrived, he had regained enough mobility to begin planning a short hike at Fall Creek Falls. “It will be just the two of us,“ he told her. Nothing strenuous, with rest stops when needed.
One warm February Sunday, they made the trip and took that hike. When they got to a certain spot, Michael said it was time for a break. He paused, and got down on one knee. That was a risky maneuver he had practiced for days. “Will you marry me?” he asked.
As she shrieked, “YES!” family members, hidden away in the woods, were quietly taking photos. They were in on the secret, and Michael had quietly choreographed their every move, from parking spaces, to hiding places.
Michael will be back at work soon, even with a slight limp. Sometime in 2019, there will be wedding pictures. This time, the cameras will be in full view. “Goodness gracious, she’s really something,” he said of Samantha. “I couldn’t have made it without her hand in mine.”
He concluded, “The surgeons, firefighters and family, especially Samantha, made this possible to get through, but it was God who put them all right where they needed to be.”