Every day, for the rest of his life, Will Schumacher says he will be thankful.
“I get to walk,” he said as he lifted his leg while sitting on stage Sunday morning before about 150 people at Crossroads Christian Fellowship.
Wearing a neck brace, sporting bruises on his face, moving ever-so carefully, Schumacher recounted the accident that came close to leaving him paralyzed, perhaps even dead, during a camping trip to Kalalau beach last Friday, Aug. 29.
The 25-year-old survived a broken neck. As he waited on the beach for transport to a hospital, darkness falling, his colleagues radioed for help — and prayed. They feel their prayers were answered.
“It’s just really remarkable to see the hand of God in that situation,” said Crossroads Pastor Bob Hallman.
Schumacher was later strapped to a backboard, loaded on a small boat in the shorebreak, transported to a cruise ship and taken to Oahu, where he underwent a three-and-a-half-hour surgery at Queen’s Hospital on Sunday, Aug. 31. He made what he and others are calling an amazing recovery.
Hallman, who stayed near Schumacher’s side, said medical officials repeatedly said it was “highly unusual” for such an injury to not result in permanent paralysis.
“They kept using the words highly unusual. I said, ‘You mean like a miracle?’” Hallman said.
Hallman described the incident as something that went from a potential tragedy to a drama to an epic adventure. There was a string of happenings — a cruise ship being nearby due to a delay, a doctor and nurse being at Kalalau, bringing along an emergency radio for the first time just in case something happened, health insurance just kicking in —made it a “beautiful story of God’s faithfulness.”
“I wanted people to know, God is in the middle of this thing,” Hallman said. “Will and I knew it. We saw a lot of miracles in this experience.”
The group of about 20 men was on an annual church outing at Kalalau beach late Friday afternoon when Schumacher dove into the water.
“The way the waves were breaking, it must have turned me up and dropped me down,” he said.
His face hit the sand hard and he briefly lost consciousness.
“I remember feeling the sand with my fingers as I was diving. I sort of felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.”
But he realized something was seriously wrong as he tried to walk in and felt a burning pain in his arm. He moved toward the other men before collapsing face down on the shore.
Dana Nadeau, church leader, rushed to help.
“He looked up, his face was all bloodied,” Nadeau said.
He and others helped Schumacher up the beach and placed him on his back. Unsure of his injuries, a few suggested Schumacher try to stand and walk. He couldn’t.
“At one point I tried to get up. It took all the strength I had to get six inches off the ground,” he said.
While the men radioed for help, a nurse told the group not to move the injured man. A lifeguard soon arrived and helped Schumacher slow his rapid, frantic breathing.
A Pride of America cruise liner, with 3,000 people on board, had been delayed in the area by 45 minutes when the Coast Guard asked it to search for a small craft that had broken loose. That delay proved key to Schumacher. Pride of America was again contacted by the Coast Guard and asked to return to Kalalau to pick up an injured man.
While he waited for help on the beach, Schumacher maintained a sense of humor.
“I told Kent (Chastain), ‘Jesus turns cruise ships around for his kids,’” he said, laughing.
It was about 8 p.m. when the ship arrived. Rescue boats, one larger, one smaller, were dispatched. The 16 footer with EMTs reached the beach. In the dark, amidst the crashing waves near shore, they safety transported the 230-pound Schumacher to the small boat, which nearly flooded at times due to rough conditions.
“The victory of this whole thing, the margin was just like that,” said Chastain as he held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “It’s incredible.”
As Schumacher was delivered to the ship, rescuers said someone needed to go with him. Hallman stepped up and swam to the smaller boat.
Chastain saw courage in that act.
“That affected my life. I want to be that kind of guy,” he said.
On the ship (after hundreds of people snapped pictures with cameras and cellphones as they were brought on board), Schumacher found he could move his legs. He was X-rayed and he and Hallman were given an estate room while the ship headed for Oahu.
Despite still not knowing the extent of Schumacher‘s injuries, they were at peace and even laughed at times.
“We sensed the presence and the sovereign work of God in our midst,” Hallman said.
At Queen’s Hospital on Saturday, doctors determined Schumacher’s C-7 vertebra had been crushed, his neck broken, and he needed emergency surgery.
“What are my options? Schumacher asked.
Death, the doctor said, or permanent paralysis.
“I”ll take the surgery,” Schumacher said after a moment.
The next morning, the surgery, anterior cervical corpectomy, was successful. By Thursday, Schumacher returned to work at Kauai Bible College.
The avid outdoorsman, who will wear a neck brace for the next two months, said his thoughts on life, his priorities, have changed. He will take nothing for granted.
“This was pretty profound for me,” he said.
Schumacher is delighted to be be able to walk, to feel, to touch, to move.
“That’s a gift from God,” he said.
Hallman said he prayed that those who heard Schumacher’s story Sunday sensed its excitement and joy. A lesson to be learned from it, he said, is that life is an epic journey.
“Live big, be courageous, step forward and make God the centerpiece of your life,” he said.