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Harlan's Story

Harlan's Story

At almost 69 years old, Harlan wants people to know that he considers himself, “a survivor and a sinner, no better than anyone else.” 
So, I asked Harlan, “Why do people consider you a miracle?”   

In startling detail, Harlan describes the day when the miracle occurred. 

It was October 7, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. Imagine a typical site on Nebraskan roads; a farmer driving a tractor with no cab on it; a loader in the front, and the bail forks in the back. But on this day and time, Harlan was not having a typical ride into town for repairs on his tractor. He felt a hand in the middle of his back and saw a bright light. Harlan experienced a sudden certainty that he was going to die and that God was with him. Harlan remembers saying, “I’m ready”. Harlan felt like he was in paradise, beyond beautiful, and he was satisfied and calm. A feeling that Harlan still recalls vividly to this day. Then came the life-changing blow.

A Yukon SUV, travelling in excess of 65 miles an hour, hit the back tire of Harlan’s tractor. The impact propelled Harlan off the seat and towards the SUV. As the Yukon continued to speed forward, Harlan was thrown onto the bumper and up onto the windshield of the SUV. The tractor veered into the ditch as the Yukon flipped over on its side and kept skidding down the road.  Harlan landed on the road like, “a water balloon busting open.” 
In amazement, I listened as Harlan continued; an on-coming driver overreacted and swerved into the ditch. In panic, the driver floorboarded the gas, instead of the breaks, of the Trailblazer that came speeding towards the out-of-control Yukon. The SUV slid into the back of the Trailblazer, pushing it into the accident scene. The driver’s front wheel hit Harlan as he lay on the street, his blood splattering the inside of the Trailblazer’s front tire and bumper, as it drove across Harlan’s collar bones. His head stuck up in the tire’s wheel-well, Harlan was dragged until the vehicle hit the tractor tire.  Harlan fell onto the road as the back tire of the Trailblazer hit his right leg and rolled across Harlan’s thighs before coming to a stop.

The ambulance from Tilden, just a mile away, was soon on the scene. More rescue units came from Neligh.  The left side of Harlan’s face was already turning black from bruising. His blood was all over the road, SUV, and the Trailblazer. The EMT’s were shocked when Harlan said, “I’m fine.  Don’t worry.”  
Harlan was taken to the hospital in Norfolk. On the way, Harlan asked the squad to call his wife and pastor. The Pastor told Harlan, “I thought I was coming to give you last rights instead you are laughing and talking to everyone.” Miraculous that the multiple skull fractures and internal injuries, that could have been fatal, were not. The worst of the injuries were on the left side of Harlan’s head that ran from the temple angling back towards the ear that resulted in a 60% hearing loss in his left ear. His sinuses were fractured. The ¾” laceration between his eyes to hairline included his right eye socket being fractured and the ligaments being torn so that Harlan couldn’t control his eye movement. 

Harlan was life flighted to an Omaha hospital where a team of neurosurgeons, trauma, internal and plastic surgeons, were waiting for him.  Harlan remembers the many comments from the medical staff about him being a miracle, including one doctor saying, “God gave you a gift, use it wisely.” In the hospital, Interns would touch Harlan’s leg and smile. Nurses gave him kisses on his left cheek.  27 patients came to see Harlan.  When Harlan was transferred to the hospital in Neligh, it was the same. For the seven days in rehab, people came to visit, sometimes individually, sometimes in groups. They would touch Harlan, smile, and leave. Harlen asked a retired Pastor and Counselor, “why do these people touch me? The Pastor replied, “they touch you because everyone at the accident scene said it was greatest miracle ever seen. They touch you and smile to show support and respect but they don’t know what to say.”

It was a miracle that Harlan survived but that didn’t mean he was unscathed. He tells about how after rehab, being the kind of stubborn he is, Harlan would literally crawl to his truck and pull himself into the cab to rest after feeding the cattle. Asking Harlan where he is now in his recovery? He reports to being 85-90% back to normal. He agrees with others on a similar journey, “I look the same but I’m a different person. It is hard for the family to accept. Not having a band-aide on my head, or some other signs of a disability makes it hard to understand. Still have some short and long-term memory loss and worry about forgetting to close the gate. Vertigo and balance are an on-going concern.  But I’m doing what I can do.” 
Asking Harlan about his hopes for the future? “To enjoy life!” Telling people about his experiences to share faith and continue healing after any kind of trauma.  What Harlan has learned from brain injury? “Never give up!  Don’t let fear take over your mind because God is always with you. Have a positive attitude that the more you push, the more you heal.”

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