Guest Columnist

In aftermath of I-380 leap, I learned to press on

Traffic on Interstate 380 drives beneath the Forevergreen Road bridge on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Traffic on Interstate 380 drives beneath the Forevergreen Road bridge on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

On Aug. 27, 2008 I decided the pain and challenges in my life were greater than the value of my life. I dove headfirst from the Glass Road overpass onto Interstate 380.

Miraculously, I survived by unintentionally over-rotating and landing on my upper back, rather than my head.

I’m writing now, a decade later, in hope of providing encouragement to others struggling with depression and hopelessness. I also feel compelled to offer closure to those who may have been traumatized by witnessing my actions, and express my gratitude to those who responded to the scene and cared for me while I healed.

Over-rotating saved my life, but didn’t spare my body. The impact of hitting the pavement broke several vertebrae in my neck and back, both shoulder blades, several ribs and my ankle. My spleen ruptured, and my spinal cord was bruised.

After being taken by ambulance to St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, I was airlifted to the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, where I spent the next month.

Within a day or so of my arrival, surgery was done on my upper spine, to prevent additional damage to my spinal cord. For the next four weeks, I wondered why I was still alive, even as I began recovery, stranded in a hospital bed.

At the end of September, I was transferred to an inpatient physical therapy unit at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo, where I spent the next three months going through hours of daily therapy.

The care and commitment paid off. I now live just north of Denver. Beside partial paralysis in my right foot, ankle, and lower leg, my body has no lingering remnants of the trauma. Amazingly, I am able to walk great distances, swim laps and play golf — all things I never imagined I would be able to do again.

Additionally, my life is full of joy. Difficult days and challenges remain, but I have a wonderful family, tremendous friends and more blessings than I can count.

What I didn’t, or maybe couldn’t, realize ten years ago is my decision didn’t only impact my life, but the lives of everyone I encountered that day, and in the months that followed. As a result of my actions, northbound I-380 was backed up for a good amount of time. To those of you who missed appointments and/or had your day interrupted: I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience I caused you. I’m also sorry for any type of trauma those witnessing my act endured. I hope you have found peace.

I owe a huge thank you to the woman who rushed to my aid, along with any other bystanders that provided support, including the paramedics that rushed me to care, and all of the doctors, nurses and other health care staff members who cared for and treated me much better than I felt I deserved.

I know some reading this may be experiencing depression, hopelessness and/or suicidal thoughts. I want you to know you are not alone. You are valuable, and there are many people who love you. Please reach out to those people for help and, if you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to them, call a suicide hotline, schedule an appointment with a doctor, or reach out to someone at a church or community organization.

I fully attribute my current well-being to my vulnerability in reaching out to friends and family, the tremendous support I receive from them, and the profound ways I’ve encountered Jesus Christ.

One of the main reasons I believe I survived, was so I could encourage others and remind them how precious and important their lives are.

While you may be in an extremely dark and difficult place right now, better days are coming. Even if you can’t, at this moment, envision it, your future is full of great experiences, wonderful people and great joy.

Press on and keep fighting, as it will be worth it!

• Stephen Dullea now lives in Longmont, Colo. Comments: @StephenLeo7

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