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IN People ON 31 May, 2015
At a certain point of life, many of us are grabbed with hands of chronic diseases and unlikely situations, many lose their hope while few survive through these challenges.
Michelina Lewandoska, a Polish emigrant to the U.K., described for a British court in January of 2012 the terror she felt as she lay buried in the ground, her hands and feet bound, in a taped-up cardboard box,she was left to die in such a suffocating condition. Incredibly, Michelina used her engagement ring to cut loose of her bonds as she was buried in the shallow grave, then claw her way out. She had difficulty walking and breathing for weeks after the attack, and doubtless still has nightmares; but on her testimony, her attackers were both sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Alcides Moreno and his brother Edgar were window washers, and they worked together on Manhattan high rise buildings for years. The job obviously carries certain risks, and in December 2007 those risks became horrifying reality as the rig they were working on became disengaged and plummeted 47 stories-almost 500 feet-into an alleyway. Firefighters arrived to find Edgar deceased and his brother Alcides alive, CONSCIOUS-and sitting up. Alcides was rushed to the emergency room that day with injuries to his spine and brain, shattered limbs, fractured ribs-in short, everything you would expect to see in someone who just fell 500 feet onto the pavement, except the lack of a pulse.Doctors expected his recovery to take a year or more, but he was pretty much recovered-and making the rounds on morning talk shows-by June. Alcides' days as a window washer are over, but his days of life should be plentiful, to the astonishment of literally everyone. Moreno's lead doctor said that falls from three stories and above are very difficult to survive, and that Alcides' treatment had taken his team into new medical territory.
In the late 1980s and early '90s, an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. Some early drugs could slow its progression to AIDS, but none could stop it, and once AIDS manifested in a patient, the end was nigh-and it wouldn't be very long.That is no longer so, especially with early diagnosis, with modern drugs. But when Timothy Brown was diagnosed with HIV in 1995, retroviral medications were still at a point where they could usually extend life, but not indefinitely. Brown responded well to treatment, but became ill in 2005 and was diagnosed with leukemia. He hasn't taken retroviral drugs since the day of the procedure, and while the treatment he underwent is too risky and expensive to be standard, he is nevertheless now referred to as "The Berlin Patient"-the first known person to be cured of HIV.
In February 2006, five year-old Jake Finkbonner was playing in a Pee-Wee League basketball game-the last game of the season. In the final minute of that game, he was pushed from behind and split his lip on the base of the basketball hoop. It would have just been his first fat lip, but the surface of this base contained a deadly surprise-the bacteria Strep A, and within the next couple of days, Jake's stunned parents were listening to doctors telling them that their son was probably going to die.Strep A is a flesh-eating bacteria, and it entered through the open wound on Jake's mouth and literally began to consume his face. His doctors described it as being "like lighting one end of a parchment paper, and you just watch it spread from that corner very fast, and you're stamping it on one side, and it's flaming up on another… it's almost as if you could watch it moving in front of your eyes". Jake's family, being Catholic, had last rites administered and asked for friends and family to pray to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Indian who converted to Catholicism (Jake is half Lummi Indian).Unbelievably, the infection slowed-and then stopped. It has taken countless skin grafts and other surgical procedures to restore Jake's face, but flesh-eating bacterial infection is not something that ordinarily just subsides-unless the patient is dead. Many patients die within 24 hours of a diagnosis; Jakes's recovery was unlikely enough that Kateri, who was beatified in 1980, is now being considered by the Catholic Church for sainthood
When Holly Dunn and her boyfriend Chris Maier were approached by a strange looking man asking for money late on the night of August 29, 1997. Holly was then raped, stabbed in the neck with the ice pick, and beaten so severely she was practically unrecognizable, at which point she mercifully passed out. After awaking to find her attacker gone, Holly dragged herself to the nearest house, and was taken to the hospital with a shattered eye socket and broken jaw among many other injuries. She was able to recover, and testified against Resendiz at the trial that saw him convicted and sentenced to death-a sentence that was carried out in 2006. Angel Resendiz, the "Railway Killer" murdered at least 15 people over 13 years-and Holly Dunn is the only one of his victims to survive.
It must have seemed to 64 year-old Paul Lessard that circumstances had conspired to make sure he wasn't getting out of his predicament alive. He had been out snowmobiling in the Maine wilderness alone and had turned the machine over; his head was pinned underneath its heavy storage rack, making it difficult to move unless he wanted to break his neck. It was very cold even though it was the middle of the afternoon, and to make matters worse, the majority of his body was lying in a freezing creek. Then the sun began to go down, and the temperature REALLY began to be a factor in Paul's continued survival. By the time Paul was freed he'd spent over 20 hours trapped in these deadly conditions-he reiterate, trapped by his head-and was obviously suffering from hypothermia and frostbite, but eventually made a full recovery.
Yemenia Flight 626, an Airbus A310, plunged into the Indian Ocean around two in the morning of June 30, 2009. Young Bahia Bakari was ejected from the plane, and-despite having no life jacket and not being a very good swimmer-was able to stay afloat by clinging to a piece of debris from the plane's fuselage. She would later say that there must have initially been other survivors, as she could hear their voices in the chaos after the crash, but that all the voices had eventually faded away.She realized she was alone as the sun rose, and it wasn't until around 11 in the morning-nine hours after the crash-that she was discovered by a civilian vessel that had been enlisted to help search for survivors. Bahia was the only one that the search effort would yield; her mother was among the dead, but her father had not been aboard the plane. She was suffering from a fractured pelvis and broken collarbone, among other things, and was released from the hospital three weeks later.
Longtime friends Ken Henderson and Ed Coen were on a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico in March 2012 when their 30-foot boat started to fill up with water. Henderson tried to pump some of the water out, but it had taken them too long to notice-salt water sprayed everywhere, killing the pumps. There was no response on their radio, no signal on Henderson's cell phone-and just after grabbing some life jackets and a few supplies, the boat vanished beneath them into the ice-cold water.And there they remained, for over 30 hours. They talked to keep each other distracted, huddled together to conserve body heat, and fought fatigue, dehydration and the bitter cold for as long as they could. Henderson decided to make a last ditch effort-a solo swim toward a distant oil rig-when it became apparent that Coen, a slender man, was having serious trouble.Ken almost didn't make it. He became disoriented and almost got off course, and began hallucinating trees made of ice under the surface of the water. After finally stumbling aboard the rig at two in the morning, a day and a half after and 50 miles from where their boat sank, Ken was able to find a galley with a phone and call his wife, who alerted the Coast Guard. It was they who discovered Ed Coen's lifeless body a short time later, but there would have been two bodies to find if not not for Ken Henderson's valiant effort.
Richard Moyer began the morning of October 3, 2011, like any other. He got up to let out his dog Brindy, who dashed off into the Pennsylvania woods surrounding their home, but as he turned to go back into the house, Brindy returned-hurriedly and unexpectedly. With a gigantic black bear chasing her. It mauled the hell out of him, chewed on his head for a little while, and then-amazingly-simply stopped, went out onto the front porch and sat down. While the damage from the bear's claws was extensive, the gnaw job on the back of Richard's head required 37 staples to close. Husband and wife were both home from the hospital by the end of the day, probably eager to tell the story to their 10 year-old son-who had slept through the whole thing.