San Diego man praises response to beach accident that nearly killed him

LIHUE — Strapped into an ambulance after a Jan. 15 accident on Kauai, unsure if he would walk again, John Zlatic made a deal with God.

“I was able to surrender,” he said. “I thought, ‘There’s nothing I can do right now.’”

Fearing the worst, the San Diego man told God, if he gave him back the use of his arms and legs, he would make good use of his life.

“I think God said OK,” Zlatic said during a phone interview with TGI.

Five weeks from the day when a wave picked up the 56-year-old and slammed him back down, his head crashing into a rock, he is on the road to recovery. There is work still to do. His right arm is weak. He tires easily. Movements come slowly.

But he is walking, driving, shaving and working again — all things in doubt not long ago.

“I already have a complete recovery,” he said from Florida, where he is undergoing treatment for his injuries. “I’m not handicapped in any way. I can’t do as much as I did before, but every day, I’m thinking how lucky I am. You spend time without being able to use your hands, you get really appreciative of the small things.”

More than anything, John Alatic is thankful to Kauai.

He’s thankful to the people who helped pull his paralyzed body from the water at Brennecke’s Beach. Thankful to the EMT driving by who stopped to help. Thankful to those who know to stabilize his damaged spine. Thankful to the staff at Wilcox Medical Center. Thankful to his daughter for hearing his cries for help.

“I have a lot of appreciation for all those people on the beach that day,” he said. “Bottom line, everybody did everything right for me that day.”

Zlatic was vacationing on Kauai with his daughter, Karly. The trip, he noted, as kind of “on a whim,” when he decided to buy a plane ticket and fly out to meet her.

They were in the water at Brennecke’s Beach for just a few minutes when Zlatic, with a boogie board, dove under a first, small wave.

“I’m not a big boogie-boarding fan,” he said. “In retrospect, it was real stupid of me.”

A wave grabbed him, took him up, then down. His forehead slammed into a rock, opening a deep gash and at least temporarily, paralyzing him as the impact hit his spinal cord.

“The next thing you know, I’m laying om my back,” he said. “I’m laying in the ocean, I can’t move my arms, my legs, thinking, I’m going to drown.”

He surfaced and cried out.

“Karly, help me. Anybody, help me,” Zlatic shouted.

His cries were heard.

His daughter and others pulled him from the water. On the beach, he was surrounded by a flurry of assistance.

“I couldn’t see what was going on,” he said.

Worse, he couldn’t feel anything in his arms and legs. He tried to move his arm, but couldn’t.

“Can you pick up my arm?” he asked a woman.

She did, but Zlatic felt like it was detached from his body. He screamed.

“I think I’m paralyzed,” he yelled.

“That was the worst feeling in my life, to see my arm and not feel it was part of me,” he said.

Through the ordeal, he said his daughter, a Harvard soccer player, displayed amazing calm, which helped him relax, too.

“She really was just tough as nails the whole time,” he said.

Zlatic praised those who stabilized him, protecting his spine, and credited a passing EMT who stopped and drove him to the hospital.

His treatment at Wilcox, he said, was outstanding and assisted in his recovery today.

Throughout, there was never much pain.

After making that deal with God, Zlatic said he knew, somehow, things were going to turn out all right.

Zlatic has been in the health field for 30 years and is a myofacial trigger point therapist. He believes that in spinal injury cases, proper, prompt treatment, quickly stopping inflammation in the spinal cord, will aid in full recovery.

He is a strong advocate of frequency specific microcurrent therapy, which is the practice of introducing a mild electrical current into the area of damaged soft tissue to promote healing.

“If you do the right things at the right time I’m sure a higher percentage of people will get their hands back,” he said.

Zlatic has a “deep, deep appreciation” for his abilities today.

“My purpose in reaching out is to say thank you,” he said. “Deep down, everybody is really good people. There were really good people on the beach that day.”

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