Defying the odds, motorcycle accident survivor returns to the life he loves

Michael Gracy (center), his wife and two daughters presented a plaque in early 2013 to of UF Health clinicians who helped save his life.
Michael Gracy (center), his wife and two daughters presented a plaque in early 2013 to of UF Health clinicians who helped save his life.

Michael Gracy’s life nearly ended one Friday afternoon in November 2010.

Then 68, Gracy had just left work at his Gainesville office of the financial services company for which he works, and was headed home on his motorcycle.

A young woman pulled out in front of him just before he entered an intersection, leaving him no time to stop. He crashed into her vehicle at about 40 miles per hour.

“The highway patrol came out and took many photographs of the accident scene, thinking that I wasn’t going to live and it was going to be a vehicular manslaughter case,” Gracy said.

Paramedics rushed him to the hospital.

“Thank God for Shands surgical trauma unit,” he said. “They took me there and I was given the best care imaginable. They saved my life.”

When Gracy arrived at UF Health Shands Hospital, he was just barely clinging to life, said Lawrence Lottenberg, M.D., a UF associate professor of surgery and anesthesiology and a renowned trauma surgeon.

“Our trauma team performed a ‘miraculous’ resuscitation on Mr. Gracy,” Lottenberg said. “It is those first five to 30 minutes which trauma centers exist for, and they make the difference between life and death.”

Gracy’s injuries included many broken or crushed bones, and a right leg that nearly required amputation. He underwent several surgeries.

“My right leg and my right arm and shoulder got the worst of the impact,” he explained. “They normally put a rod in the leg where the femur was just in shreds, but they didn’t have enough [bone left] to put a rod in. They had to put a plate from my knee to my hip, which I have in there today. With my arm, they had it all bandaged up and wrapped up and there was a big hunk of it missing.”

During Gracy’s extensive recovery at UF Health Shands Hospital, UF surgeons also operated on his face to insert plates where his cheekbones had been. For several months, he was dependent on a ventilator. He remained in the hospital through December 2010, much of the time unaware of his surroundings, and he suffered several setbacks in his recovery.

“I died probably a half dozen times, literally, and was brought back, probably within that first month,” Gracy said. “Different things would happen. I’d be coming along and my lung would collapse, or I had a heart attack at one time, and they had to run me down to cardiology.”

By early January, Gracy was more stable and moved into an extended-stay acute care hospital. But he worsened there and returned to the intensive care unit at UF Health Shands Hospital in early February. After improving, he transferred to UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital, where he remained for a month. In early April, Gracy left to go home. He required a wheelchair and in-home therapy to help him walk again, followed by outpatient physical therapy.

He was back at work for his regular four-day-a-week schedule sometime in the fall of 2011, Gracy recalled. Since then, he has continued to excel in his career. He earned honors from his company was ranked 24th out of about 3,000 financial professionals. Gracy also has returned to hobbies he loves, such as working in his yard and golfing. Some of his abilities have not returned, including his once-praised singing voice, or the strength and dexterity to run or jog.  He can’t lift his right arm past about a ninety-degree angle.

But Gracy is just glad to be alive.

“I’ll never be back 100 percent normal, like I was before, but just to be here talking to you is good enough for me,” he said.