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Hiker who cut off arm: My future son saved me

Six years ago, with his arm trapped under a boulder, Aron Ralston made the agonizing decision to cut it off to save his own life. On Tuesday, the dad-to-be said that a vision of the son he’d have in the future enabled him to survive: “What some might call a prophecy.”
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It’s been a long time coming, but Aron Ralston can’t wait to meet the little boy he says saved his life. Trouble is, he isn’t expected to be born for nine weeks.

Appearing on TODAY Tuesday via satellite as part of the show’s week-long “Buzziest Stories of the Decade” series, Ralston, a mountain climber who famously cut off his own right arm to free himself after a tragic accident, told Meredith Vieira he had a premonition during his ordeal. During the fifth day of his six-day nightmare, he was visited by the specter of a young child — a child he firmly believes is the son his wife Jessica is due to bear him just after Valentine’s Day 2010.

“It was kind of the first half of a déjà vu, or what some might call a prophecy,” Ralston, an animated free spirit, told Vieira. “I certainly feel that this little boy is perhaps the same little boy that I saw the very last night I was stuck in the canyon, when I thought I was going to die. There was this little child, about 3 years old, blond hair, that I picked up and was interacting with with my left hand and a handless right arm, and I saw myself holding him there.”

Now Ralston believes that when his wife gives birth, he will meet that little boy who buoyed his spirits during his life-or-death ordeal. “I can’t wait to see him. He helped save my life in that canyon, and I get to tell him ‘thank you’ in a couple of months.”

Agonizing choice
Ralston’s life has been coming up roses since his gripping story captured the world’s imagination back in April 2003. Known for being a daredevil, Ralston, now 32, went mountain-climbing in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. And not only did he travel solo — he neglected to tell anyone anout his trip.

Ralston fell into a crevice, dislodging an 800-pound boulder in the process, and the slab pinned him against a canyon wall. After five days trying to lift and break the boulder, he came to an agonizing decision: He had to cut off the lower part of his lifeless right arm.

Ralston managed to snap the bones of his arm against the rock, and then used the dull blade of a multi-use tool to cut through the tissue around his broken arm. He used pliers to sever the tendons and finally extricated himself.

Ralston then rappelled down a 65-foot wall. He had begun an 8-mile hike back to his vehicle when a vacationing family met up with him on the trail and called for help.

Life of adventure
After months of rehabilitation, Ralston returned to an active lifestyle and even resumed climbing. Two years after his accident, he climbed 14,000-foot peaks in his native Colorado with the help of a prosthetic right hand.

Ralston admits he has taken some heat for what some say is the reckless way he’s lived his life — in past misadventures, he’s nearly drowned, tussled with a bear, and walked into an avalanche. He told Vieira there’s been a fundamental quest in the way he’s lived his life.

“The psychology of why I was doing the things I was doing is very complex,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with trying to fill up a void of esteem in my life and to accomplish things. I had a lot of fun out there, too, but at the same time, finding an inner source of happiness and fulfillment.”

But these days, Ralston says being married and getting ready to be a first-time dad “is definitely the big adventure in my life.” And he’s able to support his new family, based in Boulder, Colo., by hitting the motivational speaker circuit, where he earns a solid five figures per appearance.

He says speaking to groups is a labor of love. “I especially like talking about responsibility and being the author of your life,” he told Vieira. “We get to create this life, and I think that our mental mindset is a lot of what goes into that, seeing things that could have been a tragedy, and seeing them as a blessing, and maximizing the opportunities that come.”

Who’ll play him?
Ralston’s story has become the stuff of legend — and also the subject of an upcoming film helmed by Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle. Given the blessings that have come from his story, it may not be surprising when Ralston told Vieira he wouldn’t change a thing, even if it meant still having his right hand.

People are the world still come up to me on a daily basis to say thank you for the story that has inspired their lives,” he said. “I would never take any of that away from someone, so yeah, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing.”

Ralston played coy when Vieira asked him if an actor had been cast to play him in the film. “We’re still picking out the actor, but it is a fun thing. It’s the classic kind of dinner-table conversation: ‘If you were going to be in a movie, who would you have play you?’ ”