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Eduardo Garcia, known as the “bionic chef”, has recovered from a terrifying near-death experience that left him with electrical burn scars and a hook for a left hand. But today, at 34, he shares his message of self-acceptance, love and learning to take a slower journey.
It was hunting season in October 2011, and I was alone on an archery hike in Montana. I was about three miles into the back country when I saw the remains of a baby black bear. I often pick up natural objects and donate them to a friend who runs a youth education program. So I stopped to check out the bear. I knelt down and used my knife to prod it.
A symphony of sound, energy and light erupted within my body.
I will remember it for the rest of my life — 2400 volts coursed through me. The baby bear had been killed by a buried, live electrical wire.
My next memory was the sky above me.
Somehow I got up. I could hear the sound of the gravel beneath my feet as I was walking, thinking, “What am I doing here?” I looked at my left hand and it was charred and black, curled at a 90 degree angle from my elbow against my body.
I walked down a winding road to the river bottom. The quickest and easiest way to get help was to cut through the rocks and bushes and head straight down. I realized that if I tripped, I wouldn't have the strength to get up a second time. I would die there.
That realization became a metaphor for my life moving forward: Sometimes it's not about doing things the easy way, but putting the effort in and taking the longer, slower journey.
I credit a few things with keeping me alive and getting me down off that mountain. I’m a physically healthy person who made the decision at a young age to make healthy eating a focus in my life. I’m also a confident outdoorsman.
I think it also helped that as I moved, I chanted to myself: "Don't stop walking; don't stop walking."
I finally made it to a cabin where a gentleman sat me down and called an ambulance. Within an hour I was in a Livingston, Montana, emergency room being prepped for a MEDVAC plane.
How's this for bizarre? My sister just happened to be camping in the mountains that weekend. When the EMT called her, she was going through Livingston and had just turned her phone on in time for the call. She was able to jump on the MEDVAC flight with me.
I spent 48 hours in the intensive care unit at the University of Utah burn trauma center in Salt Lake City. They amputated my hand, removed four of my ribs, and parts of the major muscle groups in my legs and torso. I also had ten months of intensive scalp reconstruction.
I had nine electricity exit wounds, including one in the groin and inner thigh area.
When tissue samples came back from the lab, they tested positive for testicular cancer.
I was still in the ICU!
Imagine: I had plastic surgeons, a burn trauma team, a cardio-thoracic team and now, suddenly, oncologists all working in tandem rebuilding me and saving my life. That team shifted gears and stabilized me, putting much of my reconstruction on hold.
In January, I flew home and started a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy, five days a week for three months.
The hardest thing about the whole ordeal was the battle with myself. I am a super confident guy and I had a lot of great things going on. With such a severe injury, I had to put my whole life on pause and come to terms with it. So I took it head on. I wasn’t going to let it sink my ship.
It’s now four years after my injury.
Looking back, I can see it was my unshakable, positive attitude that allowed me to be strong and patient, and that, in turn, allowed my support team of surgeons and caregivers to do their jobs. Accepting help from others, being humble and ultimately coming to terms with and owning the “new” me has made me who I am today.
This is why I am doing a film, “Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Documentary." I want to share my experience with others.
Most of the early footage of my injury and recovery was shot by my girlfriend at the time, Jennifer Jane, who became my primary caregiver. We are now the best of friends and business partners.
For a time, I was happy to let the film footage sit in a box and continue my motivational speaking and working with groups like the Challenge Athletes Foundation, which uses sports to help veterans, amputees and other physically challenged kids and adults.
Eventually I decided to do the film because I know that so much good will come from it. We could have found private investors, but instead we launched the project on Kickstarter. If I've learned anything from my time in hospital and recovery, it’s that to survive in life we need help from others, and the strength of a strong team and family becomes unstoppable.
I am only just now starting to process the loss and the emotional pain and I realize I have a lot of work to do.
But, honestly, I can’t remember my life before the injury. These days it’s so rich and full of purpose. I speak to kids who are bullied in school. They see my prosthetic arm —with a hook for a hand — and think, “If he can get out there, so can I.”
That day, the worst day of my life, has actually made me a better person.
Now I have the opportunity to reach more people than ever before with my message: Don’t let anything you did in the past hold you back. Forgive and love yourself, and share it with others so they can move on.
Every day is a brand new day with light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s, oh, so bright.
Garcia is co-founder of the food brand Montana Mex, and a motivational speaker for healthy living. And now, with director Phillip Baribeau (“Unbranded”), he has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a feature-length film about the traumatic accident, “Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Documentary.”