The worst, most incredible year of my life…

Today marks a full year since my accident…

A full year since my world once again was turned upside down…

I realize that some of you reading this have no idea what I’m talking about so I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version.

At the end of February 2017, I took my family with me on a 6 week speaking tour around Florida.  I had several locations in Florida where I was speaking at conferences and we booked a condo on the beach to stay in for almost 2 months and I would fly in and out of the nearby airport while my wife and kids played in the sand….for 2 whole months!

It was surreal.  We had never had the opportunity or freedom in all of our adult life to just drive away for a couple months and spend it teaching and pouring into thousands, while at the same time having our kids right by our side.  It was so crazy that Cindy (my wife) and I repeatedly told ourselves that we had to pinch ourselves to make sure it was real.

We started with a stop in Destin, Florida and taught at a leadership conference for some friends of ours and then we headed to Seaside, Florida…our happy place…to spend a few days before the next conference I was speaking at in Orlando.

Seaside was seriously magical this trip.  We slept in, played on the beach, took the kids to the playground, and just literally enjoyed every single moment with each other.  After losing a child and the dark journey we had been on the previous couple years, it felt like we were finally getting our feet under us.  Cindy even mentioned it multiple times in Seaside.

“This can’t be this good right now….”

As if she just didn’t believe that life could actually be working FOR us and us not feel like we were swimming against the current, getting our heads bashed in.

We arrived in Orlando the same, doing all the fun things with the kids and taking in all of the surrounding “must do’s”.  The conference was starting in a couple days and several thousand essential oil and health enthusiasts were going to converge on the Gaylord, Orlando and spend 3 days getting a total download of incredible information.

On Thursday, March 9th, my oldest son, Harper, wanted to go swimming down at the pool.  He had been begging me to go do the “Flow Rider”, which is a surfing simulator with a simulated wave that you surf on with a boogie board.  I thought that sounded like an awesome idea and would be ton of fun so I gladly agreed.

We signed in and I filled out all of the waivers telling you how dangerous this thing was.  But like everyone else before us who had tackled this ride….I paid no heed because seriously, “What could happen?!”

It was just after lunch when we got in because I remember getting the kids burgers from the poolside bar.  I talked to friends in town from all over the world while they finished eating.  Then we headed over for our appointment time on the Flow Rider.

The young kid (everyone younger than me is a “kid” now..LOL) running the wave machine gave us the run down and showed us exactly what he wanted us to do when we got into the wave.

Sounded simple enough:  take the board and walk sideways, right to left into the current and when in the middle of the wave hop down on our stomachs to begin riding the wave.  Then we would be in the water to help us figure it out and do fun tricks or whatever.

Sounded simple…

Harper went first and he of course looked like a natural, beach bum rockstar. We went all over the place and the guy helping moved him back and forth in the wave.  I stood at the side while he did his part and cheered him on.

Then it was my turn…

I did what the kid told me and with board in hand began to walk into the current from right to left.  As I stepped into the water I immediately noticed 2 things:  1. The current was STRONG. Much stronger than it looked from the side.  And 2. The floor of the unit was spongy and felt a little slick.  I took three steps into the current and each step left me more uneasy until I felt what I could only describe as a terror build up in my chest.

My brain screamed “HECK NO!!!” so I literally decided in my mind that I was not going to be a surf star that day and decided to sit on my rear and tap out…

But before I could shift my weight to sit back, the current swept my left foot out from under me.

Still standing it shoved my foot inside, spraining my ankle one direction and in panic I corrected and it washed it the other way, spraining my ankle the opposite way as well…

When my leg went outward, pushing me into the splits, I fell.  When I fell I felt a huge crunching sound in my left knee followed by pain and I immediately said to myself, “Whelp, there it is…you just tore the ligaments in your knee”.

The current pushed me over to the side of the ride and looking down my leg was angled off to the side so knowing it was about to swell up and would get stuck like that I reached down and with a quick thrust shoved my leg back straight.

It hurt….a lot…

At that point I knew I had really tore up my knee.  The ride dude (what do you call those guys?!) came over and said what every person probably would, “Hey man, you ok?” I calmly told him that I was in fact NOT ok and that I had messed up my knee.  I was worried about passing out so I had him help pick me up and I sat on this short cement wall that was the side barriers to this ride.  I hung my leg over the other side and held pressure onto my knee on both sides with it slightly bent to let it hang.  You could see the swelling pouring into the knee like a water balloon.

Looking back on that moment, the miracles that happened and the way God’s hand was all over every single detail is truly remarkable.

As I sat there holding my knee I told Harper to bring me my shirt and my phone.  I knew I needed to call Cindy because we would be going to the ER.  I called her and told her I had tore my knee up pretty bad and she was NOT happy with me. Ha Ha!!  She told me what she thought about me being dumb in a wave machine for a couple minutes and then headed to get the car to take me to the hospital.

From that point on there were so many people who stood in the gap for our family and helped us that it’s hard to remember all the hands that helped.

Immediately after I fell, Clay Sanchez (friend from Texas) came over and checked on me.  I sent him to get me a lemonade from the bar so that I could drive up my blood sugar and reduce the chances of me passing out.  Then Bear Tallo (long-time amazing friend from Texas) came and asked me what I needed.  He went to grab one of my kids for me.  Then Nikki Hamm (friend from California) ran up and asked what I needed and I had her go grab Ellie, my daughter, and make sure she got to my mother-in-law.  It was so crazy.

Cindy came down and security pushed me in the wheelchair to our own car and I hopped into our minivan and we headed to the emergency room.  Once there it was paperwork and waiting to get into a room.  Finally was brought back and I ended up sitting in my room in a wheelchair holding my knee for 4 hours!!  They tried to take x-rays but I couldn’t let them move my leg for some weird reason, so they could never get a good picture.

After being there a few hours they took me back for CT scan and after the scan finished the technician, a 40 something year old ex-military guy who was amazing, ran back in and goes, “DON’T MOVE!!”

That kind of made me nervous (obviously).  I asked him what he saw and he just kept saying:  “I’m not your doctor, but you need to be still so that we can transfer you to a bed to keep you perfectly stable.”

Once back in my room, after a bit, two of my closest friends came to hang out with me.  Les Wright and Adaryll Jordan were there to pass the time with me until we found out more about what was going on.   They told me that they saw a fracture in my femur on the CT scan and that it was a pretty bad mess in there.  That info changed things quite a bit at that point.

I remember the next moment as clear as if it was 10 minutes ago.  Cindy was standing at the foot of my bed holding Whitten, my then 1 year old.  Les was sitting on my left and Adaryll was standing on my right.  While we were making small talk, the ER doc on call when I came in, stuck her head in the door and said, “You don’t have a history of cancer do you??”  I was a little surprised by her question but I responded, “No. No cancer”.  Waiting for more explanation all she said was, “OK THANKS!” and shut the door.

That’s when fear tried to creep in.

I told Cindy to grab her and bring her back in.  “Did you see something on my films?  Or are you just checking off boxes on paperwork?”

She glanced around the room and solemnly said, “No, there’s something on your film.  You have a lytic lesion in your femur”.

Time started moving very slow at that point.  Cindy, standing there shocked and silent, handed Whitten to Adaryll and promptly walked out of the room.  (Later on I would find out she had puked her way to the bathroom to start planning my funeral.)  Les and Adaryll and I kept the ER doc there with a flood of questions.

I asked her what the report showed.  “Lytic” on any kind of film means that something is eating your bone…and that’s not good.  I knew that there were pretty much only two options of what this tumor could be with the location and my age, etc.  It was either an Osteosarcoma, which would be a race and fight to even live through.  Those tumors are deadly.  OR it was a Giant Cell tumor, which while super destructive, are not malignant or life threatening.

“Read me the report, PLEASE!”  I told the doc after she told me that she wasn’t good at oncology (cancer diagnosis) and couldn’t tell me what it was.  (Thanks a lot!)  She read me the report and the phrase from all of my teaching from when I used to teach national board exam reviews for chiropractic colleges that I was waiting to hear was “clear and defined margins”.  If it said that I knew it was a Giant Cell tumor and that even though I would be looking at massive surgery I most likely wasn’t going to die from it, so I could at least relax about that part.   She’s reading along and says, “lesion in the lateral distal left femur has clear and defined margins”. I immediately was at peace and my fear levels went way down.

My pain levels were continuing to rise at this point and I had only been given 400 mg of ibuprofen because I was convinced initially that they were just going to wrap up my leg and I would head back to the conference to teach!

Cindy came back a few minutes later and I told her, “Hey, good news!  It’s a Giant Cell Tumor so I’ll have to have a major surgery but I’m not going to die.”

She looked at me with this expression and goes, “How do you know it’s a Giant Cell?”  I told her I had the doc read me the report and I diagnosed myself. That didn’t go over too well.  “OF COURSE YOU DID!”  she said, completely not believing anything coming out of my mouth with as much pain as I was in.

After that, the hospital was ready for us to leave so that strapped my leg into an immobilizer and sent us back to the hotel.

By 2AM the pain was so severe because there were only a couple pharmacies open at that time of night in that area and ALL of them were out of the pain meds we were prescribed…which meant none for me…with a shattered femur.  YIKES!

So Les and Kent Smith drove me back to the hospital and we stayed there until they gave me something to help with the pain and spasming.

The next morning I woke up to more pain and a room full of women leaders in YL praying over me and Cindy in our room.  It was incredible.  They loved on us until they had to go down for the seminar to start and then left us there to get ready to head back to Texas.

Verick Burchfield, another of my closest friends from Kansas, flew in that morning and rented a suburban to drive me back in.

They wheeled me out to the parking lot to get me into the car.  My family and kids were already in our van and ready to go… all I had to do was get from the wheelchair to the suburban….right.  My leg began to go into intense spasms around the fracture site, bending my broken leg inside the immobilizer and that was the worst pain I have ever experienced in my LIFE…EVER.  It ended up taking 4-5 guys almost 3 hours to get me into the back of the suburban because of the spasming.  I’ve never in my life experienced pain to the point of wanting to pass out, until then.

Finally I got loaded and we headed all the way back, all 18 hours to Texas.  We drove all the way through the night and made it to our house around 7AM the following day.  They all helped get me into the house and onto a couch and then they all left us there.

It was just me and Cindy and the kids….with my broken femur.  I was TERRIFIED.  I started freaking out and having a panic attack about the kids hitting my leg and what we were going to do.

More miracles and God appointments:  one of our good friends from the Dallas/Fort Worth area called a surgeon friend at the major hospital here, one he just so happened to play golf with, and together they got me into the hospital right away and a visit with the top Orthopedic Oncologist in the area.

Getting there with all of our kids and Cindy not being able to lift me was another problem.  How were we going to load me?!?  Where would I go in the car??

So we called and got a membership with CareFlight and called them for an ambulance.  They were amazing.  Different than calling 911…CareFlight will take you where you want to go…not just where is closest.  So they took me to the hospital where I had a room ready and they admitted me right away to begin further torture…errr, I mean films!  😉

Four days later I had a ton of films, a biopsy and they confirmed that it was a Giant Cell Tumor and so Dr. Dean came in to discuss surgery options.  I just assumed with what I knew that I would be having a total knee replacement.  I wasn’t happy about that at my age, but was grateful for the technology.  When I asked the doctor that, he said, “No, I can rebuild your knee with an allograft replacement”.

“What is that exactly?” I asked.

“It is a bone replacement from a cadaver to use as a spacer to rebuild the knee.” he said.

I asked him how many of these procedures he had done and he said, “Allografts?  Hundreds, we do them all the time….but….usually with small pieces of ligament or something similar…not usually this big.”

“How many like this have you done?” I asked him.

“None” he replied.    That didn’t scare me or worry me because I knew how good he was, but I wanted to know more about the procedure.

“So how many of these procedures have ever been done?”  I quizzed.

“In all of my research” Dr. Dean said, “I have found 5 total.”

That’s when I had to stop….5 TOTAL…like EVER DONE in the WORLD like this.  The upside to a surgery like this was that it would keep me from having to have a knee replacement for a long long time, if ever, and would keep half of my knee.  The downside was that the recover would be really hard and long and I would be in a wheelchair for months.

Cindy and I prayed about it and talked to him about it and in the end chose the allograft.  We knew he could do it and honestly I wanted my surgeon to have to work for it. Doing a harder surgery would make him do even better work and I wanted his very best.

In order to do the surgery and have the cadaver bone though, they had to order it and that would take almost a month.  So they sent me home on Valium and Hydrocodone for almost a month to wait for the bone and everything to come in and to get ready for the surgery.

That was one of the longest months of my life.  I battled anxiety and fear horribly during that time because I knew my leg was shattered in that brace and I couldn’t do anything about it.

In order to do the surgery and have the cadaver bone though, they had to order it and that would take almost a month.  So they sent me home on Valium and Hydrocodone for almost a month to wait for the bone and everything to come in and to get ready for the surgery.

That was one of the longest months of my life.  I battled anxiety and fear horribly during that time because I knew my leg was shattered in that brace and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Surgery day approached on April 5th and the Lord was totally all over it.  They surgery took half as long as they had predicted and everything went better than he could have hoped for.  I ended up with a plate up my femur, a cadaver implant, cement and 7 rather large stainless steel screws holding my leg together.

I stayed pretty strong in recovery at first and was handling things ok…until they came to change my dressing over the surgery site.  When the nurse took the bandage off and revealed the 52 staples down my 11 inch incision….I broke down and lost it.  It was very, very real in one moment and I was overwhelmed.

The anxiety while was in the hospital was so intense.  I’ve never experienced anxiety and it was suffocating and paralyzing.

They never got on top of my pain the entire time.  I stayed at about an 8/10 on pain for the entire time and it was getting to me.  If it wasn’t for friends like Brian Friedl from Iowa talking me down on the phone and Jason Jacobs literally spending the night in my room to calm me down, I don’t know that I would have mentally made it through that week.

Coming home after that was really hard…for many reasons.

First, I was helpless.  I literally could do very little on my own and had to have Cindy help me with every single thing I wanted to do.  I have always been the strong one helping everyone else, so to be on the other end of that and have to be helped with every single thing was crazy hard.

Second….being ripped out of my role and identity in my office and traveling and all that I was doing at the time was really hard.  It took me months to calm my brain down and fully accept and work through the fact that I was now home 100% of the time and that my role was completely different.

So I did what I knew to do every single day:  I worshipped and I read.  I borrowed a blue tooth radio from my mother-in-law and I jammed out to worship music all day long to really help me walk out this entire new journey.

And it turned out to be the worst, most incredible year of my life so far.

I learned an entire new depth of how much the Father loves me and my family and the lengths He will go through for time with and relationship with me.

I also got to have more time with my wife and kids that I had ever had since having kids almost a decade before.

I loved it.

So fast forward and I finally got out of the wheelchair in October, almost 8 full months after the injury.  I began physical therapy and started down an entire new path of pain that would bring so much change and healing.

I got off of my walker and onto a cane full time at about the end of December, beginning of January and as of this blog I haven’t even used my cane in over a week!!

  • God is good….ALL THE TIME.  I’ve known this to be true and I’ve prayed it and sang it, but going through the pain and hard and literally learning to walk again?  It was further shown me how GOOD my Jesus is.   At the beginning of my recovery, right after surgery, the Lord gave me the verse in Isaiah 40:31 that says,  “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint”.  I clung to that verse this whole year.  And I have plenty of time to WAIT on the Lord while sitting in a wheelchair.

  • My wife and my kids are incredible and are the most important thing to me.  You would think this would be a no-brainer and an obvious one…but it shocked me how much other things had crept in the way of them.  I had never been truly PRESENT for them like this ever and it has been incredible.  I knew my wife was a super hero before all of this, but watching her serve me, take care of our kids and lead our business all by herself was a whole new level of Wonder Woman.

  • There is purpose in your pain.  Up until this injury I had experienced other pain…but nothing to this level.  At times when you are in so much pain you don’t want to move, you don’t want to do anything because to do anything would be to make the pain worse.  But in the healing of this leg and the rehab of this leg…every moment of pain was for a purpose.  A purpose of FUNCTION.  The Lord uses any of the pain we go through in this life the same way; to grow us and to build us into the people he needs us to be.  And to build our story, so that in turn we can love on and minister to someone else who is walking through something similar.

  • Your community matters…A LOT.  Back when Cindy and I first got into practice and we didn’t have any kids yet…we really had no friends and no community.  We works 6 days a week and Cindy worked nights a lot too and we were really young, but doctors and no kids, so we didn’t fit into any group at all.  So we began specifically praying for God to bring us a group of friends to walk through life with and to do life with.  We also began to pray for mentors to help guide us and people we could mentor ourselves.  We prayed for years.  And the Lord over a decade began to answer that prayer.  After breaking my leg, we sat there and watched our community of friends pour in and jump in to help unlike anything we have ever seen before in our lives.  Our community now is large and loves better than any we have seen and we are so so thankful.  But not everyone has such a community.  I would tell you two things;  One is to pray that in!  Like we did.  Hit your knees and ask God to move people into your life to walk with you and your family.  The second is to BE a good friend and a part of other people’s community even before they are in yours.

  • People are more important than things.  We tell our kids that all the time, but I really learned it in a whole new way.  The simplest things like sitting in bed, in my brace, with Whitten, my youngest, and just playing with him was way way more important than a meeting or a live video or a consult or a trip.  And even in the knowing that that was already true, FEELING it was so huge.

  • Seasons are just seasons…and they WILL change.  At times in my recovery I honestly didn’t think I would walk again or even if I did I didn’t think it would be without assistance or very well.  But when you are in the middle of the trial and the struggle…that valley looks long and like you will never make it out of it.  But then you look back a few months later and you see just how far you have come.  The key?  Keep moving.  Don’t camp out in the valley of your struggle.  The only way through it and out of it is FORWARD.

  • Our bodies are incredible healing machines and they can handle SO SO much.  Watching my body go through this amount of trauma and watching it slowly come back has been hard and amazing.  So no matter what you are dealing with, there is room for your body to improve and heal.  Just give it time and feed it well.

There’s more I’m sure, but maybe I’ll break that off into another post later on.

I just had to post a few of the things the Lord did in and through us during this year.  Looking through the entire experience I really think though that the most profound part of it for me was being able to fully empathize and understand totally different groups of people.

People in wheelchairs, whether for time or for life…I understand you and I love you and I am so so proud of how you guys push through life and adapt to the environment you are in.

People who experience chronic pain….I understand you better.  I hate the level of darkness that settles over you as you walk through the kind of pain that makes you want to curl up in bed and not get up that day.  I get it.

People going through pain med addiction and withdrawals.  I was only on pain meds for about 3 months and the withdrawals and the experience of coming off of those was one of the scariest and worst of my life.  The hallucinations and convulsions and nightmares was terrifying and I am so sorry for the struggle you are going through or have gone through.  I used to be so callous and so non-understanding to people going through that and now I have a whole new perspective.

People, like my own dad, who have had injuries and surgeries that have limited things they could do in life and the frustration of that.  I was honestly so mad at my dad as a kid for awhile when he couldn’t go running with me or play tennis with me or some other really active things because of his own knee injury and surgery but now?  I get it and I understand.  I battle guilt and fear daily, of disappointing my own kids, when I can’t do the same things other dad’s can do.  And maybe I will be able to some day…but some things because of the injury are just not something I want to risk and that’s hard.

That gift, the gift of perspective has changed my life forever.

It’s amazing the difference a year can make and how different your life can look at the end of that year.

In the end, looking back on all that has happened this year, I am thankful.  So so thankful.  People ask me a lot if I would still get in that Flow Rider knowing what I know now…and you know what, I totally would.

As hard as it has been…

All the mind numbing pain…

All the paralyzing fear…

All the doubts…

After the surgery and all the therapy….

I would do it all over again.  I wouldn’t change where my family is now for anything and if it took me going through that level of injury, trauma and pain to get us here….then it’s worth it.

I’ll close this off or it will be an entire book, but I have to say here at the end:

If it wasn’t for my amazing wife…I wouldn’t have made it through this.  Babe, you are all the things that I am not.  You complete me in ways I didn’t know I needed.  And you serve and honor me and hold me up in a way I can only hope a lifetime of loving you can come close to repay.  Good gosh I love you….and I’m thankful for you.  Thanks for sticking with me on this adventure….very little of it has been a walk in the park.

To everyone else:  Thank You.  Thank you for the prayers and the support for my family and kids.  It has meant more than I can express to you.

If you are reading this and you find yourself in a pit…physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally.  I just want you to be encouraged.  It’s not going to be easy and there will undoubtedly be a certain level of pain that is sure to be involved….but the Lord WILL bring you through and you will look back on this and see all the bricks he laid in the walkway of your journey.

Love you guys.

Here’s to a new year of adventure and lessons.

Dr Jim Bob

2018-04-16T10:46:56-07:00

8 Comments

  1. Heather March 10, 2018 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    Wow wow wow. Thank you for taking the time to take us through this past year. I love you, friend, and am so grateful you have such an increidible community that has served you so well. Your and Cindy’s message, your authenticity, your faith…your testimony is shining light and hope. So thankful for your life!

  2. Brenda March 10, 2018 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    God bless you, your family, & your testimony that will be used to bless generations of others!🙏🏼

  3. Diane Nevins March 10, 2018 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    Wow just wow! I have love following your story and heart for the Lord! See you in MI.

  4. Julia Garbutt March 10, 2018 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    Thank you for inspiring message and your willingness to share your journey. I needed this today. I too am in a wheel chair courtesy of a drunk driver running a stop sign . On November 12th my freedom, independence and ability to serve was taken from me. The pain and leg muscle spasms were the worst ever! I’d rathet go through childbirth again. Never have I had dark thoughts or felt helpless. I was the one that took care of others in my family at work and as a chaplain for our police department. I’m finally able to start physical therapy next week. I’m so excited. I just want to move back home . With a fractured spine and my pelvis broken in four places, I’m not able to be home alone in a house full of stairs that I am not able to climb. As a single business woman I’m so incredibly thankful for my parents giving up their retiired life to care for me the last four months.
    God is so amazing so much healing has occurred in my family that would not have occurred if it weren’t for this unfortunate situation.
    I will hang on to your words of encouragement and pray for the Lord to continue to bless my family but also teach me why I am here. Like you said it’s so tough going places in a wheelchair. I even got stuck in a restroom at Hobby Lobby. Lol I was not able to open the heavy door , had to sit and wait for someone to come in.
    It’s definitely a journey. I’m hoping like you to be a better servant for the Lord when this is all over with. I miss my job so much! I work for the happiest place on earth Disneyland. My goal was to return in April. This past Wednesday I was informed I’d be lucky to return by July. I was so heart broken. The Lord has a plan and I need to just trust Him, even on the dark days that you just don’t want to move because of the pain.
    I’m blessed by your message Jim Bob. Thank you , it gives me hope.

    • Jim Bob Haggerton March 26, 2018 at 9:23 am - Reply

      WOW! So sorry you are going through this right now Julia. Praying as you begin therapy that you respond even faster than any of your therapists could imagine and get back on your feet and back to more of a “normal” life. It’s super hard being put on the side-lines but just use the time to learn and grow and rest and you’ll be back in the game before you know it. Be well!

  5. Heather Estey March 12, 2018 at 9:32 am - Reply

    I cried through this.
    Thank you for writing it.
    Kurt and I will continue to lift your precious family up as your next year ahead unfolds with new blessings and lessons.
    You gave me hope. I am 5 months into my dark journey and so so much of this hi Mr right in the heart.
    God will continue to use every part of our lives, the dark and the bright, for His glory, if we allow it. ♡
    Blessing and hugs, friend

    • Jim Bob Haggerton March 26, 2018 at 9:21 am - Reply

      Thanks for that and so so praying for you as you fight through your own journey. You’ll get through this, but I get how hard it is in the middle.

  6. Dianne Stone March 14, 2018 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Wow, Jim Bob – I had NO idea! Yes, God is good all the time and all the time God is GOOD! What a journey to bring you a new testimony to share with others.

    Wishing many prayers and blessings upon your sweet family!

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