UXBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Michael H. “Mookie” Wilson, 34, was standing in Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Cape Cod in Sandwich three years ago, just a few weeks after his Ford Explorer hydroplaned at high speed into a Jersey barrier on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Framingham.
The crash on Sept. 12, 2009 — three years ago — sent his SUV rolling over and the unbelted Wilson slammed his face through the driver’s-side window. He then caromed back to the bottom of the vehicle, hard against the pavement through the shattered window on the passenger side, where he slid in the moving SUV for 50 yards.
“Have you figured out what you are yet?” Wilson recounted a nurse asked him.
She answered, “You’re a walking miracle.”
By most accounts, Wilson wasn’t supposed to have even survived the crash. He ripped open the left side of his face and lost one ear; his right arm was shredded so “it looked like it had been through the meat grinder,” he said; he had fractures and nerve damage and was put in a medically induced coma for six days to get whatever healing was possible started.
Ultimately, he underwent 13 surgeries in two-and-a-half years, including skin grafts that required his right hand to be sewn into his abdomen for several months.
But there he was at Spaulding Rehab: alive, walking, talking and learning once again how to get from point A to point B.
Throughout his ordeal, Wilson remained positive. Despite losing an ear and some right arm function, he remains upbeat. In the past year, he’s been spreading his message about attitude, acceptance and determination as a motivational speaker at schools, to business groups and others facing medical challenges.
“They chalked it up to medical miracles,” Wilson said about the progress he made against the odds. “The power of positive thinking is what I call it.”
Wilson said that according to his plastic and hand surgeon at UMass Memorial Medical Center, Dr. Fadi Nukta, his glass-half-full approach and determination were key factors in the medical team’s decision to go ahead with some of the complex treatment he received.
“Because of my mindset, because of my attitude, he (Dr. Nukta) had the highest regard for possible outcomes,” Wilson said. “It’s the same message I try to teach my kids: Stay positive.”
He said a member of his clinical team kept looking at his medical record to see if there was a neurological reason why he always came in smiling.
He joked, “My doctor thought I had brain damage because that’s how positive I am.”
Wilson said he’s always been an upbeat person — he used to tend bar and manage a restaurant in Medway. But when people heard him talk about his accident and all he had been through, they were inspired.
After a number of people, including perfect strangers, said he needed to share his story, he created a website, http://www.mookiesmiracle.com, and began going out on the speaking circuit.
Wilson said he has always been a big Red Sox fan and his friends in college thought it would be funny to give him the nickname “Mookie,” like the player on the 1986 Mets World Series Championship team, and it stuck.
“It was hard to wrap around that I was going to go into a career where I talked about myself,” Wilson said.
“Right now, it’s just me sharing my story. It really drove home after 30 or 40 high school kids came up to me (after speaking): ‘You’re gonna help me look at things differently,’ ” he said. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
Wilson said he’s very, very fortunate to have come through the way he did, with a good Samaritan who provided first aid at the accident scene; all-hands-on-deck attention from the head trauma unit at UMass Memorial Medical Center — University Campus in Worcester; support from family and friends; a surgeon who was willing to work with him through complex procedures; and what he considered exceptional responsiveness from his insurer, Fallon Community Health Plan.
But he distinguished between fortune and luck. “You win the lottery, it’s luck,” he said. “You live a good life, you’re a good person, you build up a bank of fortune.”
Part of his good fortune came from the outpouring of support Wilson received from his parents in Mattapoisett, who cared for him at home after his hospital stays; his co-workers and friends; his then-girlfriend and now wife, Audra; his now 9-year-old son, Gabriel; and his 7-year-old stepson, Tyler Erickson.
Speaking of his extended family’s presence, he said, “It made it real easy to get up in the morning and have a smile on my face.”
Those who don’t have family or friends around can still find support, he said, if they’re willing to reach out. “It’s significantly important: If you’re alone, ask for the help and accept it.”
By being open, knowing that others are there for you and being there for others however you can, you can handle a lot more than you might think, he said. And the more positive you are, you attract positive people.
Wilson acknowledged that even with the sunniest of attitudes, life isn’t perfect — for anyone.
“I have one ear and it means nothing to me. . My hand is considered more or less disabled, but I’ve adapted,” he said.
“Everybody’s had a bad hair day. You can’t let it get to you.”
For Wilson, being able to throw a baseball again with his son drove his determination to make all those surgeries work. When Gabriel asked Wilson to pitch to him in his last Hopedale Youth Baseball coach-pitch game in June and he got a hit, Wilson said, “I was breaking down on the mound. It was amazing. I overcame all obstacles, all negativity to play catch with my son.”
Besides speaking to others about overcoming his personal challenges, Wilson participated with Team Tom Brady this year in Best Buddies International’s bicycle-run-walk fundraising event in Hyannis Port for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
He said his buddy, Josh, with whom he was paired on a tandem bike, “was the happiest kid in the world” and didn’t care at all that his partner was Wilson instead of quarterback Tom Brady or another Patriots player.
Wilson said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a superstar or not. There’s good to be done.
“I don’t want to be famous,” he said about his new career. “I just want to help people.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.