He thought he would be scared the first time he went outside again, back into a world where a car might suddenly accelerate for no apparent reason. But it turned out to be no big deal, says Chuck Wing, one of two Deseret Morning News employees to be critically injured on their way to get a cup of coffee four weeks ago.
Both Wing and Gary McKellar are upbeat and, as of last Friday, are finally back home after nearly a month at LDS Hospital. Both men were hurt on Feb. 24 when a Jeep Grand Cherokee, while being parked on Regent Street, jumped the curb and pinned them against the wall of a parking garage. Wing's left leg was later amputated above the knee; McKellar's thigh wound still hasn't healed and his femur is held in place by an "external fixator."
They face months of grueling therapy and Monday were back at the hospital — McKellar for wound treatment, Wing to attend a demonstration by two former Paralympic gold medal winners who are amputees and sprinters.
Wing is learning a whole new vocabulary: heel strike, proprioception, vaulting. Learning to walk again, he has come to discover, is a lot more difficult than learning to walk in the first place. But medal winners Dennis Oehler and Todd Schaffhauser assured him that he can even learn to run.
After his stump heals, Wing will be fitted for a prosthetic leg. He doesn't really care what it looks like, he says. "I'm going to pick one that will let me do the things I did before, before this new adventure." His goal a year from now, he says, is to be riding his bike on slick rock in Moab, with his buddy McKellar and their wives.
Julie Wing orchestrates her husband's at-home physical therapy with the same gusto she once employed to get him up early on Sunday mornings for a workout at the gym. "She's the biggest drill sergeant, and I love her for it," says Wing.
"This is kind of my therapy," said Deseret Morning News photographer Keith Johnson as he watched Wing at therapy on Monday afternoon. When Wing and McKellar were pinned against a wall by the Jeep, both Johnson and a fourth Deseret Morning News colleague, Mark Reece, tried to free their co-workers. Johnson finally succeeded in throwing the car in reverse but was then dragged 10 or 15 feet, breaking an ankle.
"When I see Chuck and he's working so hard and he's so positive, then the little things that get me down maybe aren't so bad," Johnson said. Over on the parallel bars, Wing was grimacing as he struggled to move his stump a few inches forward and back.
Like the others, Johnson has tried to put the accident in perspective. "The reality is that you have so much time on earth, and in that time you need to make the most of it. Both Chuck and Gary did that before the accident, and they'll do it now."
Both Wing and McKellar say they remember every detail of the accident in slow-motion — the roar of the engine, the way Chuck was crumpled over the hood, the way Mark held Gary's hand when they waited for the ambulance to arrive. There are clear memories but very few what-ifs, both men say. "There are so many what-ifs in life. You could what-if till the day you die," says Wing.
"Something like this will rearrange your priorities in a hurry," says McKellar. "To think that something like this could happen to anybody, that in a moment it could all be over, it made me want to live life in the moment, because you never know."
Both men are grateful for the support they have received from friends, colleagues, neighbors and the community at large. Both say they know that the Jeep's driver, Hossein Sepehri-Nik, has gone through his own trauma since the accident. Sepehri-Nik told McKellar's wife, Kim, that he had been having nightmares and that he couldn't get images of the accident scene out of his mind.
Wing and McKellar have consulted a lawyer. To date, the Salt Lake City Police Department has not decided if it will investigate whether the accident was caused by a faulty accelerator, but it did say it will preserve the car for a third-party inspection. Similar cases of sudden acceleration have been reported in the past in Grand Cherokees.
In the meantime, McKellar and Wing are just happy to be home.
"You two looked like some old couple," Johnson kidded them after seeing them on television the night before, filmed in Wing's living room as they sat in easy chairs. "You looked like you were going to grow old together."