ENCINITAS — With all the pomp and circumstance of a professional cycling event, John Miksa made his final push of the 15-mile journey from Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla to Scripps Encinitas on Aug. 27.
With more than 100 supporters cheering and many chanting “John, John, he’s our man, if he can’t do it physical therapy can,” Miksa was near tears as he waved to the crowd.
On Aug. 21, 2009, Miksa, 55, an author and consultant from Carlsbad, was hit by an automobile driven by a distracted driver near Pacific and Cassidy streets in Oceanside. He was propelled over the car’s hood and roof, landing with a shattered ankle and significant damage to his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae. After suffering the devastating accident, everything went numb. “I could feel some pain, but mostly I realized I couldn’t move, my body was still.”
Miksa was indeed paralyzed from the neck down. Thankfully, Chris Garcia, an Oceanside employee, saw the accident and called emergency first responders immediately. An emotional Garcia was also on hand to welcome Miksa to the finish line nearly a year after their first meeting.
Against all odds things have taken a turn for the better for Miksa. Despite being given less than 1 percent chance of recovery from his severe spinal damage, Miksa said the unthinkable happened. The prognosis was so dire that neurosurgeon Scott Leery operated on Miksa in the hopes of giving him life as a paraplegic.
But Miksa was determined to recover fully. “For whatever reason my progress was pretty rapid,” he said. “They stood me up on day four. I went from being totally paralyzed to standing.”
On Sept. 1, Miksa told his therapist he wanted to walk and he did — all 250 feet with the assistance of parallel bars. Later that afternoon veteran therapist Jim Cope assured Miksa he could walk without the bars. “I was dealing with muscle atrophy, a broken ankle,” Miksa said. “I was an athlete my whole life and now I had a lot of anxiety about walking, I was in a lot of pain.”
But with the grace of a “drunk Frankenstein” Miksa hesitantly took a walk down the hallway with Cope by his side. “Within a week he was walking up and down the hall, taking the stairs by himself,” Cope said. “He came to me scared and uncomfortable about what happened. He did 75 percent of the work and I did 25 percent of the work to try to get him to normalize as much as possible.”
As fate would have it Miksa and his wife Sheri learned that same day that their daughter and son-in-law were going to have a baby. “It was an amazing day to say the least,” Miksa said. He is now a first-time grandfather to Liam, born on April 12.
Miksa was joined on the landmark ride by members of his care team from both Scripps hospitals, as well as a professional rider and former San Diego resident Rory Sutherland and supporters from the his healthcare provider, UnitedHealthcare.
“This is a celebration of his miraculous recovery,” said Cope, who also rode with Miksa. “I’m not a biker so they may need to get me to an ER afterward,” he remarked in an interview the day before the ride.
For Miksa the journey to learn the lessons of the accident transcend the physical realm of relearning how to walk, sit, stand and bathe. “I have incredible empathy for people who are paralyzed. I’m going to make a lot of lemonade out of this giant lemon I was handed,” he said, referring to the accident.
“I want people to have hope that they can recover,” he said. “Most of all I want to tell people to ‘put your cell phone down while driving’,” he cautioned. After observing motorists for the nine months he was not allowed to drive, Miksa said he had the opportunity to notice how distracted drivers are. “I’m going to be sticking to trails after this ride,” he said.