For Portland pastor Steve Ruetschle, 2020 is a significant year.
In June, it will mark 10 years since he suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident that left him a quadriplegic — unable to feel or use any of his limbs.
Many people would give up on ever walking again, but not Ruestschle. With support from his family and thousands of people across the globe, he has slowly relearned how to walk.
"(The doctors) gave me 10% chance of any movement like my hands or arms or anything below my shoulders," recalled Ruetschle of the day doctors told him he was quadriplegic.
Ruetschle described the day of the accident much like any other. He was visiting relatives in the United States from the Philippines, where he and his family lived at the time.
With the sun in the sky, Ruetschle remembers cruising with his brother on Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina — an area known for its scenic beauty. Ruetschle wasn't an avid motorcycle rider, but he went on an on-road training anyway.
Then suddenly, all he could see was darkness.
"I have no idea what happened, but I know that I fell perfectly wrong," Ruetschle said. His brother found him in a ditch off the side of the road, where Ruetschle faintly remembers telling him to take care of his family.
Little did Ruetschle know at the time, but his brother did help take care of his children while the pastor recovered from head trauma, a broken neck and near-complete spinal cord injury.
When asked if Ruetschle knew that he was paralyzed when he regained consciousness, he said, "You would think I would have … (but) I couldn't believe it, even though I had already been for two and a half weeks at that point."
Her husband's paralysis was hard on Michelle Ruetschle. She's grateful not only for the help she received from family, but also from strangers in person and online, she said.
"I started blogging almost right away," said Michelle Ruetschle, who found solace in sharing her experience online with others. "That was one way that I think I felt empowered to do something."
After Steve Ruetschle's accident, the family moved from the Philippines to Seattle to give him the care he needed. This meant the family had to rent a house with no furniture and little to no belongings to include in the home.
That was until a stranger gifted the family new furniture, Michelle Ruetschle said.
"Later on, people brought meals and things once we were out of the hospital, which was months later," she recalled. "People lent their skills like occupational therapists and physical therapists that came to see us for free."
Steve Ruetschle credits his wife's positivity as a factor for his miraculous recovery. For Michelle, she was happy to simply have another day with her husband.
"I'm so grateful he's still with us," she said. "I think in the context of that we could have lost him altogether."
To grapple with her husband's accident and their changing family dynamic, Michelle Ruetschle wrote a book called "Forty: The Year My Husband Became a Quadriplegic." The book shares further details about the family's journey after the accident.
It also includes a detailed account of Michelle Ruetschle's hopes for her husband to take a first step in time for their 10th wedding anniversary, which would have been six months after the accident. Not only was he able to accomplish it on time, he also did so much more, she said.
"He was still in a wheelchair, but he was able to get up out of it and sort of do a slow dance with me briefly on our anniversary, which is very sweet and really the answer to my prayers," said Michelle Ruetschle.
Steve Ruetschle remembers his wife telling him to try and move his big toe each day. That changed everything for him, he said.
"It was so almost insignificant, but it did move," Ruetschle recalled. "My brain somehow could communicate to my body below my injury … (and) I had this community of people just kind of cheering me on and hoping for me."
Ruetschle also remembers asking a doctor for the main reason patients are able to improve over time, he said the doctor replied with "a faith community."
"It shocked me," Ruetschle added. "(The doctor) said, 'People who have a faith community around them have this support and a community that can hope for them when they can't hope for themselves.'"
Ruetschle admits that he still feels a tremendous amount of neuropathic pain, but he is grateful he is able to walk short distances. He continues to preach every Sunday at Sunset Presbyterian Church on 14986 N.W. Cornell Road, just north of Beaverton.
"My belief is anyone who is pain-free and can walk around the block without any pain, they are the wealthiest people in the world," he said. "And they don't even know it."
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