I never considered myself unique, but people are constantly telling
me, "I am a miracle." To me, I was just an ordinary "guy" with
realistic goals and big dreams. I was a 19-year-old student at the
University of Texas and well on my way toward fulfilling my "big
dream" of one day becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
On the night of February 17, 1981 I was studying for an Organic
Chemistry test at the library with Sharon, my girlfriend of three
years. Sharon had asked me to drive her back to her dormitory as it
was getting quite late. We got into my car, not realizing that just
getting into a car would never quite be the same for me again. I
quickly noticed that my gas gauge was registered on empty so I pulled
into a nearby convenience store to buy $2.00 worth of gas. "I'll be
back in two minutes," I yelled at Sharon as I closed the door. But
instead, those two minutes changed my life forever.
Entering the convenience store was like entering the twilight zone.
On the outside I was a healthy, athletic, pre-med student, but on the
inside I was just another statistic of a violent crime. I thought I
was entering an empty store, but suddenly I realized it was not empty
at all. Three robbers were in the process of committing a robbery and
my entrance into the store caught them by surprise. One of the
criminals immediately shoved a .38 caliber handgun to my head, ordered
me to the cooler, pushed me down on the floor, and pumped a bullet
into the back of my head - execution style. He obviously thought I
was dead because he did not shoot me again. The trio of thieves
finished robbing the store and left calmly.
Meanwhile, Sharon wondered why I had not returned. After seeing the
three men leave the store she really began to worry as I was the last
person she saw entering the store. She quickly went inside to look
for me, but saw no one -- only an almost empty cash register
containing one check and several pennies. Quickly she ran down each
aisle shouting, "Mike, Mike!"
Just then the attendant appeared from the back of the store
shouting, "Lady, get down on the floor. I've just been robbed and
Sharon quickly dropped to the floor screaming, "Have you seen my
boyfriend ... auburn hair?" The man did not reply but went back to
the cooler where he found me choking on my vomit. The attendant
quickly cleaned my mouth and then called for the police and an
Sharon was in shock. She was beginning to understand that I was
hurt, but she could not begin to comprehend or imagine the severity
of my injury.
When the police arrived they immediately called the homicide division
as they did not think I would survive and the paramedic reported that
she had never seen a person so severely wounded survive. At 1:30 a.m.
my parents who lived in Houston, were awakened by a telephone call
from Brackenridge Hospital advising them to come to Austin as soon as
possible for they feared I would not make it through the night.
But I did make it through the night and early in the morning the
neurosurgeon decided to operate. However, he quickly informed my
family and Sharon that my chances of surviving the surgery were only
40/60. If this were not bad enough, the neurosurgeon further shocked
my family by telling them what life would be like for me if I beat the
odds and survived. He said I probably would never walk, talk, or be
able to understand even simple commands.
My family was hoping and praying to hear even the slightest bit of
encouragement from that doctor. Instead, his pessimistic words gave
my family no reason to believe that I would ever again be a productive
member of society. But once again I beat the odds and survived the
three and a half hours of surgery.
Even though my family breathed a huge sigh of relief that I was still
alive the doctor cautioned that it would still be several days before
I would be out of danger. However, with each passing day I became
stronger and stronger and two weeks later I was well enough to be moved
from the ICU to a private room.
Granted, I still could not talk, my entire right side was paralyzed
and many people thought I could not understand, but at least I was
stable. After one week in a private room the doctors felt I had
improved enough to be transferred by jet ambulance to Del Oro
Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston.
My hallucinations, coupled with my physical problems, made my
prognosis still very bleak. However, as time passed my mind began
to clear and approximately six weeks later my right leg began to move
ever so slightly. Within seven weeks my right arm slowly began to
move and at eight weeks I uttered my first few words.
My speech was extremely difficult and slow in the beginning, but at
least it was a beginning. I was starting to look forward to each new
day to see how far I would progress. But just as I thought my life
was finally looking brighter I was tested by the hospital
europsychologist. She explained to me that judging from my test results
she believed that I should not focus on returning to college but that
it would be better to set more "realistic goals."
Upon hearing her evaluation I became furious for I thought, "Who is
she to tell me what I can or cannot do. She does not even know me. I
am a very determined and stubborn person!" I believe it was at that
very moment that I decided I would somehow, someday return to
It took me a long time and a lot of hard work but I finally returned
to the University of Texas in the fall of 1983 - a year and a half
after almost dying. The next few years in Austin were very difficult
for me, but I truly believe that in order to see beauty in life you
have to experience some unpleasantness. Maybe I have experienced too
much unpleasantness, but I believe in living each day to the fullest,
and doing the very best I can.
And each new day was very busy and very full, for besides attending
classes at the University I underwent therapy three to five days each
week at Brackenridge Hospital. If this were not enough I flew to
Houston every other weekend to work with Tom Williams, a trainer and
executive who had worked for many colleges and professional teams and
also had helped many injured athletes, such as Earl Campbell and Eric
Dickerson. Through Tom I learned: "Nothing is impossible and never,
never give up or quit."
He echoed the same words and sentiments of a prominent neurosurgeon
from Houston, Dr. Alexander Gol, who was a close personal friend of my
parents and who drove to Austin with my family in the middle of the
night that traumatic February morning. Over the many months I received
many opinions from different therapists and doctors but it was Dr. Gol
who told my family to take one day at a time, for no matter how bad the
situation looked, no one knew for certain what the brain could do.
Early, during my therapy, my father kept repeating to me one of his
favorite sayings. It could have been written by both Tom and Dr. Gol
and I have repeated it almost every day since being hurt:
"Mile by mile it's a trial;
yard by yard it's hard;
but inch by inch it's a cinch."
I thought of those words, and I thought of Dr. Gol, Tom, my family
and Sharon who believed so strongly in me as I climbed the steps to
receive my diploma from the Dean of Liberal Arts at the University of
Texas on that bright sunny afternoon in June of 1986. Excitement and
pride filled my heart as I heard the dean announce that I had
graduated with "highest honors" (grade point average of 3.885), been
elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and been chosen as one of 12 Dean's
Distinguished Graduates out of 1600 in the College of Liberal Arts.
The overwhelming emotions and feelings that I experienced at that very
moment, when most of the audience gave me a standing ovation, I felt
would never again be matched in my life -- not even when I graduated
with a masters degree in social work and not even when I became
employed full time at the Texas Pain and Stress Center. But I was
On May 24, 1987, I realized that nothing could ever match the joy I
felt as Sharon and I were married. Sharon, my high school sweetheart
of nine years, had always stood by me, through good and bad times.
To me, Sharon is my miracle, my diamond in a world filled with problems,
hurt, and pain. It was Sharon who dropped out of school when I was
hurt so that she could constantly be at my side. She never wavered or
gave up on me.
It was her faith and love that pulled me through so many dark days.
While other nineteen year old girls were going to parties and enjoying
life, Sharon devoted her life to my recovery. That, to me, is the true
definition of love.
After our beautiful wedding I continued working part time at the
Pain Center and completed my work for a masters degree while Sharon
worked as a speech pathologist at a local hospital. We were extremely
happy, but even happier when we learned Sharon was pregnant.
On July 11, 1990 at 12:15 a.m. Sharon woke me with the news: "We
need to go to the hospital .... my water just broke." I couldn't
help but think how ironic it was that my life almost ended in a
convenience store and now on the date "7-11" we were about to bring
a new life into this world. This time it was my turn to help Sharon
as she had helped me over those past years. Sharon was having
contractions about every two minutes, and each time she needed to
have her lower back massaged.
Since she was in labor for 15 hours that meant 450 massages!! It
was well worth every bit of pain in my fingers because at 3:10 p.m.
Sharon and I experienced the birth of our beautiful daughter, Shawn
Tears of joy and happiness came to my eyes as our healthy, alert,
wonderful daughter entered this world. We anxiously counted her 10
fingers and her 10 toes and watched her wide eyes take in the world
about her. It was truly a beautiful picture that was etched in my
mind forever as she lie in her mother's waiting arms, just minutes
after her birth. At that moment I thanked God for blessing us with
the greatest miracle of all -- Shawn Elyse Segal.