CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Dean Otto and Matt McGirt Run together most Sunday mornings.
“We get to mile five or six and I’m always like Dean, you ok? You feeling alright?” McGirt says.
They’re good friends - but not your typical running buddies.
They met in the emergency room.
It was a Saturday last September. Dean, a Charlotte father of two, was out for an early-morning bike ride.
Will Huffman and a friend were on their way to a football game.
“It was really, really dark,” Huffman remembers. “The windshield was hard to see out of lots of condensation. It wasn’t until we got 15 feet from Dean when we could actually see him which is when I slammed on my brakes but at that point unfortunately we were too close to him.”
Dean remembers it clearly. “I heard brakes lock up then I felt the impact. I woke up in the middle of Providence Road and I can’t feel anything below my waist and there's these two guys standing over me freaking out a little bit.”
He was rushed to Carolina Medical Center and rushed into surgery. He was paralyzed from the waist down.
Dr. Matt McGirt, a neurosurgeon with Carolina Neurosurgery and Spine Associates, operated on Otto at CMC.
“It had to happen quickly and the odds were stacked against him. We know with this level of severity of spinal cord injury. His spine had to be put back together.”
There was a two percent chance he’d ever walk on his own again.
No chance he’d ever run and still Dean says, “I was never scared, never worried about not being able to talk again it was just like ok, whats the next thing I've gotta do to get better.”
Incredibly, three days after surgery, Dean managed to pull himself up using a walker.
“Hardest two steps I’ve ever taken Didn’t think I could do it, but I did it.”
So he made a deal with his doctor, who had never run more than three miles. he wanted them to run a half marathon together.
I thought it was unlikely but I said to myself, "Gosh, what’s my excuse? If he’s gonna go from paralysis to half marathon, I can go from couch to half marathon."
The doctor says Dean is truly one of a kind and insists his approach to life is part of the reason for his recovery.
In fact, Dean even forgave Will Huffman, the 27-year-old who hit him.
Huffman remembers, “One of the things he said to me right off the bat was I'm gonna run again, and I’m gonna be fine and you have to do the same thing. You can’t let this hold you back.”
Dean walked his first 5k a month after the accident. He ran his first 5k in march with Will, and Dean and even beat Will.
“I wouldn’t change a thing. This changed my life, changed my perspective on my life,” Dean says.
He’s now raising money for people with spinal cord injuries who haven’t been as lucky in recovery. And next month, on the anniversary of the accident, he, the neurosurgeon that saved him and the man that hit him will all run a half marathon together.
“It’s all about gratitude. Grateful that Matt was there grateful that Will was there and with me. It’s gonna be a celebration of gratitude."
A celebration of life.
If you’d like more information on Dean’s story or to help with his cause, click here.