The horrific industrial accident that cost him the lower half of his body, and nearly cost him his life, didn’t rob Andy Holcomb of his joie de vivre nor his faith.
I dropped in on the young Akron man and his family Tuesday, the eighth anniversary of the accident no one thought he would survive. Not the 14 firefighters and emergency medical technicians who extricated him from the shredding machine. And not the doctors and nurses at Akron General Medical Center who worked so hard trying to put him back together again.
But Andy — as he did at 19, when the accident happened, and now at 27 — continues to defy medical logic, amazing us all with his indefatigable spirit and good humor in spite of the monumental challenges in his rearview mirror and those still ahead.
If ever I have seen a more apt poster child for that old spiritual I Won’t Complain, it’s Andy Holcomb:
I’ve had some good days
I’ve had some hills to climb
I’ve had some weary days
And some sleepless nights
But when I look around
And I think things over
All of my good days
Outweigh my bad days
I won’t complain.
Not far from Andy’s side are his anchors: his mother, Sheila; older brother Gary Holcomb Jr. (who held onto him with such might during the accident, preventing the apparatus from claiming any more of his brother); his three-legged pug dog Tre, and his brother’s dog Cabo.
About Tre, Andy jokes, “He snores so loud!” Of course, Tre could only howl his displeasure with the secret being shared.
At the time of the accident, Andy was a student at the University of Akron. The graduate of Akron’s North High School had been the school’s mascot, Eric the Viking, for three years.
His biggest hope continues to be getting a proper prosthetic that will afford him the mobility he so desperately wants.
Unfortunately it’s a hurdle for another day, as he’s dealing with much more pressing issues, like major skin breakdowns and pain management.
He had surgery in late November, replacing a pain pump, and hasn’t been able to get out of bed. But soon, very soon, he insists.
While he’s making the best of an imponderable situation, playing video games and watching his 80-inch TV, Andy has things to do and places to go. He has to learn to play that candy-apple-red electric guitar that was donated last year by Jeff Lounds, a stranger from Lansing, Mich., and painted with hot-rod yellow flames by Akron’s Matt Smith, owner of 840 Designs. And he wants to hang out with his friends at Applebee’s and return to public speaking.
Of all the things he’s called, Andy prefers “uncle.” His brother Cliff and wife Katie have two children, 6-month-old Levi and 2-year-old Libby. His niece likes entertaining and mocking him. She’s also fascinated by his artfully decorated, floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree. This season’s installment is a combination of bright lights and misfit toys. “Marsha’s little niece said I was a misfit toy,” Andy delighted in sharing the back story. So the theme seemed like a natural. (Marsha is married to his brother Gary Jr.)
Sheila and Marsha usually get together to work on a tree to donate to Akron Children’s Hospital’s Tree Festival, but didn’t this year after Sheila suffered a mini-stroke. After a few days in the hospital and a change in her diet — vegetarian for the most part — she’s doing just fine.
Vegetables, however, have never been a favorite of Andy’s except for McDonald’s french fries and Skittles, which he swears with a gleam in his eye are vegetables of a different kind.
But it’s food for thought that Andy is always more interested in talking about.
He’s been getting visits from a group of local Boy Scouts who are pursuing a Catholic religion award, based on actively studying the seven sacraments including the anointing of the sick. “They [their leaders] wanted them to get to know someone closer to their age,” Andy said.
Questioned about his faith, Andy gives the same answer he has in the past, that it’s still “solid.”
“I’ve never questioned God. I’ve always been a religious man,” he said. “With the experiences I have had and all of the amazing people I’ve met, I would be crazy to question any of it.
“I’m blessed more than most people will ever be,” the always optimistic Andy added thoughtfully.
His mantra, after surviving the impossible, has always been, “I don’t need legs to walk by faith.” And this unspoken one: If I can see the invisible, I can do the impossible.
One needs only to look at the enormous collection of encouragement, prayer, Mass and Christmas cards lining the walls in his room to know how much his story has inspired others not to give up on whatever challenges are confronting them.
Andy frequently engages Siri, the intelligent personal assistant on Apple’s iPhone, for idle chitchat like “What are you wearing?”
And this one I was witness to: “I love you, Siri!”
To which she, seemingly rebuffing any possible advances, dryly replied in her best business voice: “I’m only here to serve you!”
If she knew the real Andy Holcomb — his heart and his soul — her delivery might have been less sharp-tongued.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or email@example.com.