The Greatest Gift by Patrick McGee

I was born on September 12, 1956, in Santa Ana, California. My father was superintendent of the Orange County Juvenile Hall. For the first few years of my life, we led a charmed existence where everyone knew us. My earliest recollections of my dad are of him walking out across the front yard carrying his briefcase and wearing his suit and tie.

My mother died when I was 12, and my father married a lady in Whittier, where we moved. I fell into drinking at that time. On July 6, 1977 (at age 20), I was driving home late one night on my motorcycle, and I turned left in front of a car and it hit me. I was knocked about 40 feet down the street and I was up against the curb. The paramedics needed to get the Jaws of Life to jack up the car to get me out from underneath. They said they were surprised I lived as long as it took to get to the hospital. The hospital told my dad I would live another two or three days and that was it. The first hospital I was in kept wanting to end my life support because they didn’t think there was any hope in me waking up, but my dad said, “No.” I was in a coma for nine weeks. I was 20 when I had my accident on my motorcycle, and I turned 21 the day before I woke up from my coma. My dad brought me my 21st birthday beer in the hospital.

I had a head injury, a broken leg, and a dislocated shoulder. My head injury affected me the way a stroke affects most people--with paralysis on my right side. There was a big change in my behavior and I could not walk. My speech was so garbled that it was very hard to understand me. I remember lying in the hospital and my father put his ear on my mouth; he could not understand me!

I got home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day 1977 after a five month stay. I was in a wheelchair, as I could not walk or use my right arm. On that day, the full realization of all that I had lost hit home. In a hospital, you have people to do everything for you, but not at home. We had a Thanksgiving feast and everybody jumped up to help (which was nice), but I have never felt so useless in my life. I could not even go to the bathroom by myself, I had to have all my food cut up, and nobody could understand what I said. I went into my bedroom and I cried myself to sleep that night. The job of recovery seemed impossible.

After a head injury, people re-learn how to use their bodies and minds the most in the first year, and my parents were determined not to let me waste that year. It seemed to me that it was useless to try to walk and talk, but I am very thankful that my dad had other ideas. I got very lazy, and my father told me that he could not stand my wheelchair. He said that I would walk again or die trying! Any time that I would stop working at my recovery my father would yell and slap me and tell me to get moving. My father’s methods seem severe, but he did what he had to to keep me moving! I call this "the greatest gift" because no matter how lazy I got or how much I complained, my father and my family were there for me. My father did not give the help that I wanted, but instead he gave me the help that I NEEDED, and the help was insisting that I do things on my own! It would have been much easier for others to just do things for me, but I would not have re-learned how to do things for myself.   

There are many things I wouldn’t have had the chance to do without my accident. I do volunteer work at St. Jude Hospital. They have an adult speech recovery program, and I worked with others to help them start talking. I enjoy working with others. I have regrets, but I don’t have regrets about what happened.     

My father passed away three years ago so this is a tribute to one man’s love for his son. Without his help, I would not have recovered all the ability that I have! Through his help, I learned the meaning of the word, “Perseverance.” I also learned that expressing love for someone is not always easy. Dad, this is for you. I love you. Look at me now, hallelujah!


LifeBio's founder, Beth Sanders, was honored to meet Patrick at a care community during our State of California CMP Grant Project for LifeBio. We received permission from him to share this excerpt from his inspiring life story and his photos. Thank you, Patrick, for teaching us about perseverance!  

"I am proud to be STANDING next to Patrick. I will add that his laugh and his positivity are infectious. Thank you for helping me live my life better because of your amazing story." -- Beth Sanders