'A miracle': So close to death, Hugh "Eddie" Suggs battles back
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 8:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 8:02 p.m.
Hugh "Eddie" Suggs was running a leaf blower outside a fast-food restaurant in Lake City one day in October when a fully loaded log truck jumped a curb and changed his life.
The front of the truck knocked him down, and four rear wheels rolled over his legs. He didn't feel a thing — no pain or shock — as his limbs were crushed and torn away.
"I lost all of my meat here," he said this week, gesturing toward his midsection. "I think one of my legs was left in the road."
Suggs says he remembers being in the medical helicopter and having what he described as an out-of-body experience, his detached soul looking down at his mangled body. He says when a voice asked him if he wanted to live, he answered yes.
Whether it was a divine spirit, the healing hands at Shands at the University of Florida taking him through more than 20 surgeries, or the record amount of blood products used at the trauma center — enough for 11 full body blood replacements — he survived.
Instead of a funeral, his family gathered Sunday at Shands Rehab to help him blow out a candle on a cake for his 53rd birthday.
On Thursday, 168 days after the accident, he rolled out of the rehabilitation center and went home.
Suggs now says he can't take anything for granted.
Twenty-eight days ago, he was able to sit up. His right arm was injured in the accident, but within the past seven days, he has been able to put his right thumb to his right forefinger. And if he's ever going to stand upright again, it's going to be on prosthetic feet.
Tears surface easily — whether it's about the most profound facts of existence or the most mundane.
"I think I was saved for a reason," he said, his voice trembling.
He recalls his wife asking him what he wanted done with his shoes. Just recounting that causes him to choke up.
"I hadn't really thought about how I couldn't wear my shoes anymore," he said with a gasp.
‘In the hands of God'
The last time he was standing, the 1977 North Marion High School graduate and owner of Aardvark Yard Work had almost finished a job with his 24-year-old son, Devin. He said he and the log truck driver exchanged glances and nodded at each other.
Then the truck turned too tight and clobbered him. The driver was charged that day with using unsafe equipment, court records show.
"When the first wheel got me, I remember thinking that I didn't understand why he was running over me," Suggs said. "My very next thought was that I was going to die."
Lake City Fire Battalion Chief Hank Rossell was the first one the scene. Rossell said in 20 years of fire services, he has seen patients in worse shape than Suggs — but they were dead.
"He was pretty aware of his surroundings," Rossell said.
Suggs said he remembers asking Rossell to tell his wife and the rest of his family he loved them.
"He told me, ‘Tell them yourself,' " Suggs said.
Rossell summoned ShandsCair's helicopter. In the copter, Suggs said he started thinking it would be OK to die but then felt nauseated by the thought.
Next, he recalls a view from the helicopter rotors. He could see the medical technicians working on his body and the pilot at the controls.
"It felt like I was in a pile of feathers — real soft," he said. "And then I heard a voice telling me not to give up, that it wasn't my time to die yet. It was like I was being held in the hands of God."
A coma was induced. His family gathered around his bedside. Grim-faced surgeons told them to prepare for the worst.
But they kept working on him. And he kept surviving.
‘None of this is easy'
His rehabilitation doctor says Suggs has done "miraculously well."
"What's remarkable is what it took to get to rehab," said Dr. James Atchison, medical director of Shands Rehab Hospital.
Suggs was unconscious for a number of weeks. His mangled right arm had to be rebuilt. He spent a stint in the burn unit, receiving skin grafts for the places that were torn away. The volume of blood he had transfused equals the amount that the Alachua County Sheriff's Office received in a blood drive that won it an award for most donations.
But Suggs still has a ways to travel on the road to recovery.
"None of this is easy," Atchison said. "What he's gone through is work, and he's got more work to do. So far, he's not been shy about working."
The father of four children said he feels he has been saved to recommit himself to his lifelong love of writing. The former fifth-grade teacher who had been selling cars until the bottom dropped out of the economy also has been a part of the longest-running poetry jam in Gainesville. Now he wants to get something published about surviving against the odds.
His wife of 30 years said he started talking about it almost right away.
"The second day he was communicating with us, he told us, ‘I'm going to write something that's going to rock the world,' " Janet Suggs recalled with a smile. "And he said it with a fist pump."
Eddie Suggs said sometimes he gets scared he's going to spend the rest of his life in bed, but then he said he's got to believe he was saved for a reason.
"I've gone through this incredible experience," he said. "Being on the verge and being saved."