By Daniel J. Vance
Derek Owen of Fresno, California, somehow survived. "July 14, 1999, is a date I'll never forget," he said recently over the telephone.
He owned a scuba shop and taught diving. On that July 14, he and two friends went spear fishing in Monterey Bay, diving from kayaks a mile off shore. "I was above water, sitting on a kayak and talking to a friend. My other friend came up from his dive. Suddenly I was knocked off my kayak. It was horrible. I felt as if I'd been hit by lightning. At that instant, I sensed that I'd lost feeling from my chest down and while falling into the water knew I'd never walk again."
A four-foot spear the diameter of a nickel with an eight-inch tip had accidentally been shot with incredible force into his back from only five feet away.
He said, "I was bleeding like a stuck pig and going into hypothermia, blacking out. I thought I was dying. I told them to tell my wife that I loved her." Ninety minutes after the accident Derek arrived at a hospital. Doctors said he should have died three times: from blood loss, hypothermia and a spear only a centimeter from his heart. The latter "obliterated" his spinal cord at the T4 level. Paralyzed from the chest down, he still has use of his arms.
"I was an extremely active 31-year-old man with a thriving business, busy every day," he said. "I wasn't the type to sit still and relax. Going from that to this was a shock. The depression then was horrible."
He said the worst part today is nerve pain. "Even right now, it feels like someone beat my legs with a baseball bat and set them on fire. On a pain scale of 1-10, I'm usually at 7 or 8 with the help of morphine and other drugs."
Surprisingly, he is not bitter.
"I've accepted the pain and will make the most of life," he said. "Now I'm trying to take my experience and help others in similar situations, to give them hope."
He receives emotional support from his wife of 12 years, Linda, a registered nurse. "She has stuck with me," Owen said. "Through this we have grown so much more as a couple. I didn't think we could get closer, but this accident has taken our relationship to another level."
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