When Dean Otto came to Dr. Matt McGirt’s operating table, the surgeon estimated that the father of two had just a two percent chance of walking again. Two percent.
Dean Otto, now 52, was an active dad. He took his kids fishing, was an avid cyclist, and loved the outdoors. But one day, that passion for physical activity caught up to him. At 6 a.m. on September 24, 2016, Dean was struck by an F-150 truck while he was out riding his bike.
Dean flew off the bicycle, hit the ground, and passed out. When he came to, he couldn’t feel his legs.
His back was dislocated and fractured, he’d broken his pelvis, tailbone, and ribs. But upon waking up, and while he waited for the ambulance to arrive, he didn’t yell at the driver who’d plowed into him.
Will Huffman, a 27-year-old salesman, had been driving the truck. Naturally, he expected anger, resentment.
Instead, Dean greeted Will and his passenger: “He said, ‘Hey, I’m Dean, what are your names?’ And, then, he said, ‘How are you guys doing this morning?’”
Dean says of the odd exchange and forgiving Will, “I knew if I didn’t, the resentment would eat me alive.”
When he got to the hospital, Dean’s doctors knew that time was of the essence, so they sent him straight to surgery. That’s where Dr. Matt came in.
Matt’s team relieved the pressure on Dean’s spinal cord and put his spine back together with “a bunch of titanium.” Just hours after he came out of surgery, he could wiggle his toes! While Matt was hopeful, he remained realistic, telling Dean’s family that he could be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“‘You don’t know Dean. If there’s a chance, he’s going to take it,” they responded.
And take it he did! Dean pushed through rehab making literal strides to get back to fighting shape.
According to Matt, who remained in touch with Dean, the father of two challenged his life saver to a run down the road: “Look. In a year from now, if I can run a half[-marathon], you’ll do it with me.”
Matt laughed it off, “I’ve seen some pretty remarkable outcomes. But did I think a guy could go out and run 13 miles with all that titanium in his spine? No way.”
Sure enough, a year to the day, Dean will run a half-marathon in Napa, California… with Matt at his side. But he’s not the only one who will support the spinal injury-survivor; Will, the man who put Dean in the hospital, will be there, too.
The two have formed quite the relationship over the past few months. Will says, “I wasn’t so much surprised that he forgave me,” but he is grateful that they were able to turn the tragic accident into a friendship. “I think most people would stop there and say, ‘Nice meeting you, but I’m done.’”