It’s the journey, plain and simple.
We are all traveling along and the path is rarely straight, or flat. It is filled with twists, turns, hills, valleys and sometimes mountains to climb. But learning from others who have found the will to do it, against seemingly insurmountable odds, should serve to inspire each and every one of us.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (115): The Ride
It was as if he had a premonition.
Rakeem Bowdry says when he hopped into his car to head to his friend’s house on May 15th 2011, it was his 6-year-old cousin who wanted to join him. When Rakeem told his cousin he couldn’t come for the ride, he could see worry and concern in the young boy’s eyes… and with good reason. It would be three months before Rakeem would see his home again.
Rakeem arrived at his friend’s house in northern Mississippi, the house where everyone went to “hang”, but his friend wasn’t home just yet. Another of Rakeem’s friends pulled up to the house and asked him to hop in his car to go for a ride to the store. An innocent request, but a ride that would change his life. What Rakeem didn’t know at the time, his friend had gotten off work early and had a few drinks. After the two finished picking up some items at the store, they got back in the car, unbeknownst to Rakeem, his friend was “feeling it” behind the wheel.
“We got what we needed at the store and my friend pulled out of the parking lot”, says Rakeem. “But instead of going back to our friend’s house, he went in the opposite direction. I asked him ‘where are we going?’, he said, ‘just driving a little bit’. I felt like something was wrong, it didn’t feel right. As we were riding I was busy checking my phone, but I could feel the car speeding up, the next thing I know I heard him hit the gas and he was going too fast. I recognized the area we were in, it was familiar, and I knew all about the hill. If you speed up, you fly down the hill, but before I could move my mouth to say slow down, we were right there.”
And they were flying.
It was the last thing Rakeem remembers before he could hear the EMT’s asking him his name. He says he said it slowly, then he went unconscious again. That was the moment they pronounced him dead at the scene. That was until all of a sudden Rakeem took a short breath, the EMT’s rushed back and immediately intubated him, providing him the oxygen to keep him alive, even though as Rakeem will tell you, he soon thought he would be better off dead.
In a drug-induced coma, it would be a week before the doctors allowed Rakeem to regain consciousness and when he returned to awareness it was panic that set in. He couldn’t move or feel anything. The doctors shared the news: Rakeem broke his neck in the car accident and would probably never walk again. The diagnosis began a downward spiral that lasted for months.
“When I heard that I immediately broke down in tears”, says Rakeem. “I started to panic even more and I cried for like two weeks straight, realizing it might mean I could never go back to school, (Rakeem had just finished his first year of college), or to touch a loved one.” For the man who describes himself as having a poetic and caring heart, the pain was too much to bear. That heart was breaking.
Rakeem spent his 19th birthday in isolation in ICU, on feeding tubes, unable to talk or speak. He says people would come to see him and speak to him, but he couldn’t respond. It didn’t help those who visited had to wear special suits to protect Rakeem from infection. “It was a horrible feeling”, he says. “All these tubes in my mouth. All I could think is I have no life after this, this is it.”
Lying alone, unable to move or speak, it’s easy to let darkness set in. Rakeem says all he could do was think of the past and what he would no longer be able to do. Play sports, run with his friends, help his grandmother, his mother, his aunt, travel to see his father in California. Rakeem says of he and his siblings, he was the one who was reliable and always wanted to help out, to clean, to keep things in order. But now what could he do?
Rakeem says: “I had a conversation with God and started praying and asked what is it you are trying to show me, please show me why did this happen? I told Him I’d rather be dead, I’d rather you take me away then have to go through this. I felt lonely and depressed, I needed someone to be around all the time. Every minute was complications and anxiety attacks. They had to come in and suction fluid out of my lungs. There are times I lay there, all alone and want to give up. I didn’t feel like fighting. The doctors and nurses would tell me to take deep breaths and do this and that, but I didn’t’ care. Because I didn’t feel like living. It’s how I felt the first two months, very much on the dark side.”
It’s not uncommon. When left to face tremendous adversity and challenges which on the surface appear insurmountable, the mind is ready and willing to give in, to give up, to run, to hide and make you believe all hope is lost. What you need in those moments, to turn things around, is a helping hand and a lot of faith.
For Rakeem it came from someone who reminded him of his purpose.
“There was a priest who always came to see me”, says Rakeem. “When they finally took the tubes out I still couldn’t really talk, but he tried to listen to me by reading my lips. He told me if I wanted to get better, not to forget I was a man of God. I tried giving up, but it wasn’t in my heart, I’m not like that. I started thinking about what I want to live for. I wanted to see people happy again and see my grandma again. She couldn’t come to see me because she had to take care of things at home. I started praying. My faith got stronger and I just wanted to better myself. It was my faith that kept me going. I started fighting and I slowly saw the change.”
After enduring two months of “darkness” Rakeem saw the light and by August 10th, three months after the accident, he was released from the hospital.
Confined to a wheelchair and paralyzed from the chest down, the transition home wasn’t easy. Rakeem says people would come by to talk and not know what to say. His friend, the one who was driving the car, came to see him and apologize, feeling tons of regret for what had happened. There were still dark moments for Rakeem: an infection which led him back to the hospital on Thanksgiving, one of his grandmothers passing away right before his 20th birthday, and the inner desire to do “something”.
Rakeem knew he needed more rehab and therapy to keep him out of his “dark place” and by scouring the internet he managed to find his way to the Kennedy Kreiger Institute in Baltimore to participate in a study for people with spinal cord injuries. He suffered through the trauma of getting from Mississippi to Baltimore. There was only one friend to help him and a seemingly endless waiting game of switching his insurance to a new state. But he manged to work through it and eventually found his way to the Ronald McDonald House of Baltimore.
During his rehab stints, some of them three months at a time, Rakeem took up residency at the House and he says the families that came through there wanted to know his story.
Rakeem says: “Everybody who is there has something they are going through, or involved in and I got the chance to offer inspiration because so many people wanted to know my story and how I got through it. Coming to the Ronald McDonald House and meeting these people was the direction God wanted me to go, because I started to get a new direction for my life. What can I do, what can I do for others?”
“If I never met the staff there and came to that place I don’t know what my life would have been. I felt like they saved my life. They helped me gain a different perspective on life. Imagine if they had turned me away or said no. Their attitude and spirit made me feel welcome and I shared my story with them and talked about all my struggles. I still had some dark times during rehab in Baltimore, but it’s just part of learning to live with a spinal injury. Not too many people would attempt to do what I did.”
Rakeem is now back with his mom and brothers and sisters in Mississippi. Unfortunately both grandmothers he loved and used to help so much have both passed on. But Rakeem is ready to share what he is learning by writing a book and getting a degree in communication and maybe psychology, as well as starting a foundation to help people like himself and others with disabilities. He would like to be the face of the cause to help people with spinal cord injuries, much like Christopher Reeves was after his accident many years ago.
Rakeem also wants to inspire: “I want people to realize there is opportunity as long as you keep trying and pushing, as long as you don’t give up, because I almost gave up. But good things can happen as long as you continue to persevere, have faith in God and in yourself something great can happen, no matter what.”
The Ride of life continues…
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
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