“I don’t remember my life very much,” said Tyler Presnell as he sat down to share his story with COUV.COM. From a black shoulder bag he pulled four pictures: One of his practically unblemished face while he slept in a coma, one of of his bare chest revealing a 12-inch scar, and two pictures of what put him in the hospital – the crushed car that wrapped his body around a telephone pole.
The pictures help him remember pieces of his life before the accident.
It began when his 14-year old twin brother, their younger sister, and a friend jumped into the car of a newly licensed teen driver. The distance they drove was approximately a mile. That trip stole the entirety of his 14 years.
“My life before this is gone from me,” Presnell said.
The one-car crash in Vancouver happened on a clear day near Columbia River High School. His sister and brother and the friend crawled from the crushed vehicle. The injured driver waited for help and Presnell lay wedged in the backseat gasping for breath.
His next memory is as a 14-year old baby. He rode around in a wheelchair, wore a diaper, and cried when his mother wasn’t next to him. Four days after the collision, the hospital released the driver. Four months later, Presnell left, but he was unable to walk.
The collision had shattered his hip, broke a femur and paralyzed most of his right leg. It broke ribs and ripped up many of his internal organs. The other damage was emotional. It shattered relationships, even the one with his twin brother. “I watched him go on with his life. He had to watch me suffer with mine.”
Now, each moment is defined by constant pain, roller coaster emotions and memory loss. The culminating mental and emotional destruction could have ended his life. “I was afraid of life because of what it did to me.” But his personal choices and a stranger’s acknowledgement saved it.
After one of his safe driving speeches, a woman thanked him for sharing his story. He doesn’t remember who she was, or much about her, but her powerful statement – that he changed her life – changed his life.
He began to take his public speaking seriously. His commitment to promoting respect on the road took him to congress, to dozens of conferences, schools and drivers’ training courses. But when the speech is over, so is his memory. He can’t remember his first speaking gig, nor his last.
What the audience remembers, though, is Presnell’s passionate rants to stop leading self-centered lives.
“Where is patience?” Tyler Presnell asks. “Where is compassion? People don’t even know what compassion is. They think it’s feeling sorry for someone.” He has a different definition of compassion. “It’s to suffer with someone, getting on their level and feeling it.”
Audio produced by Naylene Frunk
Story by Carol Doane
MORE RESOURCES: Tyler Presnell’s blog.