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Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Richmond, Tx
Experience: 10+ years
2015 Ducati Monster 1200S
'14 Honda GROM! 181cc of fury!!-SOLD
'10 Aprilia Tuono Factory-SOLD
'08 Busa - sold
A few more sold
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Jan. 23, 2006, 11:55AM
'To be down now, is pointless.' — CHRIS SYMONS
Crash doesn't get best of Iraq vet
College Station biker wows his doctors with his positive attitude
By LEIGH HOPPER
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
Tattooed on his back is an angel framed by the words "You only live once." Christian Symons, 23, wants his tattooist to amend it to say "twice" — in honor of the day he didn't die.
In November, Symons was riding 70 mph on his motorcycle, without a helmet, when he crashed head-on into a pickup. The impact tore off his left arm, and surgeons later took his left leg.
Now, roughly two months since the accident, he's living in his own house, with his brother and fiancée, in College Station, where he's reinstated weekly, marathon poker games. Last week, he drove his mother's Suburban for the first time, and made his first house call, with his older brother's help, for his new garage door business.
His doctors say Symons' outlook, combined with unflagging support from his family, point to a strong recovery and adjustment to the "new normal."
It's a term Symons rejects.
"My definition of normal is two arms and two legs, and I'm not normal anymore," he said recently, sitting in his parents' living room with his ballcap on backwards. "But I don't think I was normal in the first place. ... I get to experience something no one else is going to get to experience. To be down now, is pointless."
Researchers who study happiness and what enables people to overcome adversity, say most of it boils down to genetics — such as an innately optimistic temperament — honed by life experience. Connections to family, friends and outside interests are essential as well. But rarely do those resources get put to such an extreme test.
"He was pretty stoic from the get-go," recalled Dr. James "Red" Duke, a longtime trauma surgeon at Memorial Hermann Hospital. "The guy's got a lot of fundamental integrity and moral strength. Not everybody has that."
Trio on the road
Nov. 13 was a perfect day for riding. The sky was clear as Symons, his brother, Keith, and father, Lyle, passed through the countryside near College Station, bound for a motorcycle show at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Passing three-rail fences and livestock, they rode their motorcyles in a shifting formation, two side-by-side, one in front or the rear. Lyle, vice president of sales and operations with Amarr Garage Doors, had ridden a motorcycle since the age of 12. He and his sons had traveled thousands of miles together.
Keith, 20, a junior at Sam Houston State University, rode a cruiser-style bike, like his father. Chris, a class clown in high school, rode a flashy, performance-style Triumph Daytona 600. He had served in the Army three years, including a stint in Iraq, an experience he said helped him grow up. He was engaged to be married in the spring.
Somewhere between Navasota and Conroe, Lyle watched Chris start to pass a minivan. Typically, Chris passed "aggressively," Lyle said, going from 70 to 150 mph within seconds.
This time, Chris hesitated as he drew next to the minivan. Was there something wrong with his bike? A red pickup appeared in the oncoming lane. Was he playing chicken? Chris doesn't think so, but he has no memory of the day.
Anger, alarm, shock
Lyle felt a flash of anger toward his son, for taking the unnecessary risk. Then came alarm — rushing up from his gut, filling his head — as he realized Chris didn't see the truck.
The bike seemed to explode into a million pieces.
Debris floated in the air, like a curtain. Lyle and Keith nearly collided trying to avoid the engine from Chris' bike sitting in the road.
Chris lay on his side, his eyes closed. His father rolled him onto his back, and took in a horrific sight: Chris was gray, not breathing. One arm was gone, his leg split open.
Lyle Symons lay on his son's chest and wailed. A woman, an off-duty emergency medical technician, ran across the grass. Lyle asked her to call an ambulance to take away his son's body, his boy was dead.
"No, he's not," she said.
Lyle saw Chris' chest heaving. He was gasping and his color was returning.
Two more off-duty EMTs arrived. Someone yelled "tourniquets!" One of them found bungee cords to tie off Chris' shoulder and leg. His head was bleeding and he was beginning to twist in pain. A passerby in costume for the Renaissance Festival found the severed arm, and carried it over by the elbow.
The LifeFlight helicopter summoned from Memorial Hermann Hospital thrummed overhead. The emergency workers who had been discussing "the appendage," now mentioned the "severed arm" being kept on ice. Chris, hearing this for the first time, said, "Wha-a-t?"
The call home
After the helicopter took Chris away, a firefighter hosed down the road. Lyle made sure Keith was OK. Then he walked to the pickup truck, now missing a front wheel, where a young man sat in a state of wordless shock.
"Were you the driver?" Lyle asked.
The man nodded.
"Well," Lyle said, "it wasn't your fault."
Lyle called his wife, Barbara, and said Chris' leg was broken and he needed stitches. He wasn't sure she could drive 90 miles safely knowing the awful reality. He didn't tell her the truth until she got there.
Barbara, and Chris' fiancée, Joanna Florida, drove from College Station to the hospital mostly in silence.
"I thought he dropped his bike and broke his leg. I had this I-told-you-so, mad-fiancee speech ready," Florida recalled. "When his dad told us (what really happened) ... I couldn't believe it. It was very hard to take in."
In the emergency department, Chris had been giving out phone numbers of people to tell about the accident, a sign he didn't have a severe head injury. Pools of blood glistened on the floor. But when his family arrived, Chris puckered his lips in a comical way for Joanna to kiss.
Surgeons whisked him away to repair what they could.
Two hours later, with a crowd of friends packing the waiting room, a doctor strode over to Barbara and Joanna. "Chris is in trouble," he said. "We need permission to take his leg."
The surgical team already had replaced the blood in Chris' body more than once. His blood pressure was dropping dangerously. The leg couldn't be saved.
"Yes," Barbara said. "Go."
Focused on the future
In the weeks that followed, Barbara rarely left her son alone, doing so only when someone promised to keep watch. Joanna kept the vigil on weekends.
In a series of operations, Dr. Emmanuel Melissinos, a reconstructive plastic surgeon and clinical professor at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, refined the stubs of Chris' arm and leg, closing the wounds so he could use artificial limbs.
"He has a strong personality. He also has a good family," said Melissinos. "His mother has been so supportive of him. His father, the same thing. From the beginning, they were thinking about the future."
Chris was home by Christmas.
Little time for grief
Simons plans to ride again someday, even if it's a three-wheeled "trike." But he said he'll wear a helmet, something he rarely did before.
Grief over the loss of his arm and leg seems to have been replaced by gratitude.
"You don't survive something like that," Chris said. "To survive that, with only my arm and leg gone, that's to me. I definitely feel that."