FORT POLK, LA — Living in his home state of Maine three years ago, practicing real estate and working on a lobster boat in the summer, Blaine Carver was going about his life.
One day changed everything. A veteran, Carver now lives far from home at Fort Polk with his wife Sarah, a nurse. He rides his motorcycle when it's nice outside, talks to his Family every day, and no longer takes life for granted. On that critical day - Dec 11, 2010 - Carver was cutting firewood for winter, just as he had done countless times. Spotting a thick oak tree, he revved up his chainsaw and had almost completely cut through the large limb when the end of it split and hit him in the chest.
Carver fell 10 feet, smashing his head on the ground below, limb landing on top of him. He remembers yelling for help, feeling unable to breathe, and then - darkness. Unbeknownst to Carver at the time, his neighbor, Jim, heard his cries for help and called 911 immediately. Jim, a burly 6'5" Maine fisherman, had to cut the 20 foot limb in two places to get it off of his neighbor. The real estate broker's ribs and sternum were broken. The right side of his chest had collapsed, and he had extensive internal bleeding. His nose was severed where the chainsaw hit it, narrowly missing his eyes. His lower lip was detached.
That night at the trauma center, the prognosis looked grim. Carver's family was told to make end-of-life arrangements. Despite the bleak outlook, a plastic surgeon was called in to rebuild the patient's face. Leaches were shipped in to suck the old blood out of Carver's nose so the tissue wouldn't die. Surgeons later inserted a metal chest plate to hold up Carver's lungs and collapsed chest.
This man - a husband, father, and son - woke from a two-week coma on Christmas Eve. He had been in a coma for two weeks. His family tried to hide the fact that it was Christmas Eve, knowing he would be upset about not having bought any presents. Carver said he figured it out when he saw a nurse wearing decorative antlers. His two daughters assured him that he had given them the best present anyone could have: waking up. The girls' father may have been alive, but he could not move. He could not twist his body. He was in excruciating pain, which he endured for fear of becoming addicted to the many pain medications they handed him.
After several weeks, Carver said he thought about giving up. "That's it, I was done. I had a plan- I was going to take all the pills at once. I felt so resentful towards my wife, felt that she should have unplugged the machines that kept me alive so I wouldn't have to be going through this. Everything
had changed, including my physical appearance. I wasn't mentally prepared to deal with the sudden changes in my life, the discomfort. Through it all, even on the day I made my plan, what kept coming to me were the words my daughters had said. I knew I had to stop being selfish. When I was in a coma I was pain-free, because they were pumping me full of morphine. My Family
dealt with the pain, not me. I thought, "I really need to give this a second chance." And now, every day, I think, man, I am so glad I am here. It's a gift.
Carvers was only 6 when his father committed suicide. "I have never forgotten how that affected me. I would lay awake crying at night, wondering where my Dad was. It was never explained to me, it was swept under the rug, an embarrassment. Back then going to a therapist was just not something people did, so I didn't understand what had happened for a long time. I didn't want to put my kids through the same thing. What my daughters said to me that day had touched me. I realized that people make quick, irrational choices-if only they would stop for a second to think about who that choice will affect."
Carver has a message for Soldiers, especially young risk takers who think they are invulnerable: "Step back and give it a few seconds, think about what the results could be. The rash decisions you make today will affect everyone tomorrow. There are happier times in the future. Think about what
your life could be two years down the road, four years down the road."
Once he decided to fight for life, the Maine native began physical therapy, slowly regaining much of his strength and grip. Determined, he would go outside and pick up a piece of wood to hold, over and over again. Carver had two goals. One of them was to ride his motorcycle again, a Harley Davidson, and the other was to play golf. Four months after the accident, he played his first round of golf. Through inner strength, progress was tangible. "Before my accident," Carver noted, "I was focused on myself. Now I tell people, 'appreciate who you have, because tomorrow may not come'. It used to seem like everything always happened to other people, not me. But when it happens to you, it's an eye opener. Now I text my children every night, I call my mother every day, I give my wife a kiss every night. If I can put a smile on someone's face today, it's a good day. My life could have been taken away, and I wouldn't have been able to enjoy any of that."
After the accident, Carver's wife Sarah joined the Army with the goal of moving to a warmer climate due her husband's chest plate and the discomfort he experiences from cold. While at her basic officer course in San Antonio, the Carvers met another couple whose son was severely wounded in
Afghanistan, with possible brain damage. The young man's parents would need to make the decision whether or not to take him off of life support. Carver said he could relate, as at the time of his own accident, it was suspected that he too had serious brain injuries due to the impact of his fall (to this day he cannot smell or taste). After hearing Carver's story, the couple opted not to pull their son off life support. Today, their son has his life back- he has a girlfriend, two new prosthetic legs, and is driving. Sarah and Blaine Carver were the very first people to visit the young man during
his recovery. "If I can share my story, and it helps even one person, saves one person, then it's worth it. I've been so close to death that I can relate to other people that have been through trauma," he said.
Carver was asked by a childhood friend to give a safety talk at the local power company. It was a success and one month later, he gave another talk for the same company's corporate office. The company's safety representative encouraged Carver to tell his story of safety and survival. Since being at Fort Polk, Carver has given two presentations, including one at the Warrior Transition Unit, and hopes to do more. "I'm here for a reason, and telling my story is my way of giving back. A lot of people are ashamed of their physical appearance after an accident and isolate themselves, but I chose to share what happened to me in the hopes it might help someone else. I am always open to talk to others and can be found on my website at www.BlaineCarversafety.com if they are having a hard time, day or night."