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Published:June 22nd, 2006 08:10 EST
Meet Harry O'Brien

Meet Harry O'Brien

By Carolyn Porter, D. Div. (Mentor/Columnist)

Let me introduce you to Harry O`Brien - a human being extraordinaire "

This is a true story.

It was a beautiful fall day in early October, October 3, 1983 to be exact. The sun was shining brilliantly and the crisp coolness of autumn filled the air. The day had presented only wonderful visions of fantastic possibilities.

Harry was quite content with his life. He and his wife were happy together and he was doing things that he loved to do - rebuilding older cars, playing bass guitar in a traveling band, and was a technical assistant in a recording company. He loved music and loved to dance. In fact, as Harry drove away from his morning meeting, he was smiling and singing along with the music that floated to his ears from his car radio. He was en route to see about purchasing another "over the hill" car so he could "fix her up."

Happily cruising as he hummed the tunes, he noticed a car sitting by the roadside with a man looking under the hood. Harry signaled to pull off the road to see if he could help this man in distress, since fixing ailing cars was one of his specialties. The man was obviously quite pleased to see help arrive and asked Harry if he would jumpstart his car. Harry hooked up the cables between both cars then went to prime the man`s carburetor. He was standing in front of the man`s car, priming the carburetor, thinking he`d have this guy on his way in short order. But suddenly, in a split second, his life abruptly ended as it had been.

There was a loud explosion and flames engulfed Harry`s face, head and chest, for the stranded man had decided on his own volition to crank the engine. Remembering a creek he had seen over the embankment when he walked up to the disabled car, Harry turned and darted straight for that creek. Not being able to see anything as he felt his flesh burning, he literally dove into the creek head first, quickly extinguishing the flames that were searing his chest and face.

The man`s car at the top of the embankment was rapidly burning, flames skyrocketing out of control. Harry couldn`t move. As he came up to the surface of the water he noticed his legs, coming from behind, falling over his head. He felt nothing, absolutely nothing of his legs. He knew he wasn`t dead, at least not yet, but he wondered if he was in the process of leaving this earth. He had hit the top of his head on a rock that he couldn`t see, and his head hurt. He attempted to get up but nothing happened; he couldn`t move. He thought of his wife and his family and prayed they`d be okay. His diaphragm was tightening and his breathing was shallow. He felt he was floating away, far away somewhere. Then, a man appeared out of nowhere, talking to him, asking how he was. It wasn`t the man who Harry had helped that was by his side, it was a passerby who stopped at the sight of the burning automobile and noticed Harry in the creek. In fact, the man who Harry stopped to help never came to help him or ever got in touch with him at any time thereafter.

Harry invalidated the odds and lived, even though the doctors gave almost no hope he`d survive. He spent two weeks in intensive care and four months in two different hospitals recovering. Scars from the burns were almost non-existent; he had accomplished what he set out to do as he ran for the creek to extinguish the flames. But what he didn`t ever expect, couldn`t possibly have dreamed would occur, not in a million years, was that now he was paralyzed from his chest down. For Harry, just 28 years old, a wheelchair became his legs. His life began all over again.

Excruciating pain, grueling hours of physical therapy, learning to do simple, take-it-for-granted things like handle a fork and feed himself, became Harry`s way of life. Life was seen through different glasses now. But people saw no bitterness. How could this be? How could anyone survive something so devastating, altering ones present life experience so completely, and not be bitter?

During the few moments while Harry laid in the creek-bed, feeling nothing, waiting for someone to come to his aid, he had a spectacular spiritual experience. During our interview, Harry expressed it so beautifully as he said, "I felt pure peace envelop me, like someone was hugging me. I began noticing nature all around me and it felt like nothing mattered, nothing at all. At the same time I had a sense of tremendous excitement - like a kid getting a new toy - and I had this sense I was going to learn more about myself than I ever could have dreamed of before. I remember thinking this was nuts, but that`s what I was feeling."

Harry ran the gambit of anger as anyone would, questioning "Why me?" But Harry was strong, and he had now gained an inner strength he didn`t know he had before. His story was carried in many cities across the country by a journalist named Lewis Guissard. Hundreds of letters poured in from well-wishers, and a letter came to him from the White House, written and signed by President Ronald Reagan, citing his remarkable humanitarianism and courage. The President and Nancy Reagan prayed for God`s blessings on him as he continued his journey of healing.

Harry`s life changed so dramatically in a way most of us will never have to face. He and his wife divorced after a while and Harry discovered he could no longer play his bass guitar in the band - his fingers just didn`t work the same. But he continued fixing those older cars and has a beautiful 1968 Impala Super Sport in burgundy and black sitting in his garage at this very moment. And he drives it as well! He continued at the recording studio, finding a place of fulfillment until one day, he decided it was time, time to move out on his own.

He bought his present home in Kennesaw, Georgia fifteen years ago and created his own recording studio within those walls. Adorning one wall are two impressive plaques signifying his recording of Tap Team`s "Whoomph, There It Is," a recording that rocked the world as it hit triple platinum status. He`s recorded both not so known and known musicians, one being Travis Tritt. Even his garage displays recording equipment of all description where he has cleverly created a ramp that extends from his den doorway into the garage, making it wheel-chair accessible. He told me he has had entire bands in his garage recording many times.  

Harry didn`t allow his catastrophic physical challenge to get in his way. He`s created his life that shows the world he`s not a quitter in any sense of the word. He lives alone and manages his life without inhibitions, knowing that everything is perfectly orchestrated, even if he doesn`t completely understand it. It was through my search of a recording engineer that I became acquainted with this extraordinary man, a man that shows the world how to live in spite of.

As an author and a publisher, I now have the privilege to assist Harry as he writes his story, a story of courage, determination, never giving up as he came out on top. I wonder if we could have done the same? He`s known for some time he was to write a book but didn`t know where to begin. Since neither of us believes in coincidences, we know our paths crossed so this necessary element of his life could come into reality.

Harry has many dreams. One is to move his recording studio outside his home which he is in the process of making that happen. This will put him out more with people, something he`s been fighting but knows now is important for his life.

Harry has many friends and is loved by many. He continually touches lives and hearts and he believes, as I do, that there are many more lives to touch in magnanimous ways. He wants to inspire others, particularly those with physical challenges, so they can plough through their challenge, all the fear and pain, and become stronger because of it. He wants these individuals to know that hope for the future is indeed bright if they can just see it, and he wants to help them see it.

Harry is a model of undaunting courage in overcoming what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. We, as individuals, get so caught up in our own stories of misery, yet it`s doubtful your story comes close to the hurdles Harry has faced. We forget how richly blessed we already are because we focus on the problems and not the blessings. Harry could have focused on his challenges and experienced a life of victim. But he didn`t. As I am in his presence I become humbled, realizing my great blessing in simply being able to swing my legs over the side of my bed every morning and stand up.

So I ask you, "Is Harry a victim or a victor?" I believe you know the truth. Truth stands tall as the victor! Where is your life "focusing on the difficulties or your magnificent blessings? When things in your life seem difficult, I challenge you to remember your blessings and become the victor as is Harry. It`s always a choice!


Written by Carolyn Porter, D. Div.
Empower Productions, Inc.

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