Just days away from the fourth anniversary of the terrifying industrial accident that robbed him of so much, Akron's Andy Holcomb remains incredibly hopeful and steadfast in his faith.
Thy Will Be Done is still his daily prayer.
Few among us have had rougher crossings than he has. Yet, moving forward remains uppermost on Andy Holcomb's mind.
Throughout his journey, the 23-year-old's life has been veiled with what many might look upon as one setback after another.
But we're talking about Andy Holcomb here. A young man who has learned to be patient in all things and to just trust in the Lord.
''Jesus is what's been getting me through it all,'' said Andy, who is more homebound these days than he would like to be.
''But my faith is insatiable! It may sound silly but I read the Bible every night,'' Andy volunteered.
''No matter what happens, I know that good will come of it.
''Even though I've been through the hardest time of my life, some of the best things have happened to me too,'' Andy said. ''There's nothing yet — with His help — that I haven't been able to get through . . .''
On this day Andy was snug in the bed in the room the Northeastern Ohio Subcontractors Association built for him with community donations. He was surrounded by his devoted family: his mother, Sheila Holcomb, newlywed older brother Gary Jr. and his wife, Marsha, and rescue dog Clarabelle. Middle brother Clifford — who is completing his final semester at the University of Akron — and his wife, Katie, were not present.
Andy, a graduate of Akron's North High School, where he was the mascot, Eric the Viking, for three years, was himself a student at UA when the accident happened. Andy and his older brother were working an extra job at NeoShred when Andy's body became entangled, nearly costing his life and claiming half of his body — everything below the belly button.
No one among the first responders thought he would make it — not the 14 firefighters/emergency medical technicians who orchestrated a plan to extricate him from the machine, nor the doctors and nurses at Akron General Medical Center who worked so hard to put him back together.
That's because what happened to Andy Holcomb far exceeds the boundaries of anyone's imagination.
But Andy is the first to tell you he had faith on his side.
Sadly, one of those first responders — Jerome Crawford, an Akron fire lieutenant and part-time firefighter in Tallmadge — died Sept. 4 following a four-month battle with pancreatic cancer. ''Out of respect for all that he did for me,'' Andy spoke at his funeral.
But 2008 held a bevy of bright spots, too.
That was the year Andy got his first true taste of freedom. With the help of a specially designed and donated dry suit from USIA Inc., an underwater equipment sales corporation in St. Helens, Ore., Andy was able to go swimming at the Natatorium in Cuyahoga Falls.
Afterward, there was a problem with the suit, currently being addressed by the manufacturer, that has kept him out of the water. ''But I'm looking forward to getting back soon,'' Andy said enthusiastically.
Andy has had to deal with monumental pain, real and phantom, since the accident but feels like he's been able to make great strides there, too.
Through his own research, he convinced his doctor to put him on arthritis medicine to try to curb the pain. ''I've seen a tremendous decrease in pain since then,'' he said.
''I still hurt. But it's not as frequent.''
The bulk of his medical problems these days has to do with ''skin issues,'' Andy said. The skin breaks down or gets abrasions from sitting too long in his wheelchair.
Sadly, the only panacea he has is just waiting it out until it heals.
''Looking back on the last four years I did think I would be further along than I am,'' Andy said. ''Like I thought I would be able to be in the wheelchair a lot more than I am.''
However, the occasional sores on the grafted skin run interference with that.
Still, Andy is optimistic.
Akron's Yanke Bionics continues to work — trial and error — on a prosthetic for him. ''That's very uplifting and it gives me hope,'' Andy was quick to say.
''At the earliest it could take another year for it to be functional. . . . They're doing all they can for me, trying to figure out the best type of mold that won't put too much pressure on certain areas. . . . It will be made to attach to me.''
Then life will be like a song once more.
Just like in October when Andy's older brother, Gary Holcomb Jr. — who was working alongside him when he had the accident — got married and tapped Andy to be his best man. ''Actually, I was like Best Dork,'' Andy quickly corrected.
''His humor is what keeps us all going,'' mother Sheila explained.
''It really was a great time,'' a more serious Andy said of the wedding and reception as he leafed through a couple of the wedding albums.
Andy, who continues to do public speaking as his health allows, enjoys hanging out with his family and best friend Joe Triola, at the movies and Applebee's at Chapel Hill ''where Big John is the best waiter around,'' Andy insists. Another regular with the party crew is Kara Shoff.
And when he's up to it, he attends Mass at Nativity of the Lord Catholic Church in Springfield Township.
On the day before Easter, Andy participated in the coin toss at a Canton Legends game. ''It was Faith Night,'' Andy remembered.
He was collecting toy monkeys, but is running out of space. So, he plans to donate many of them next Christmas to a local nursing home or somewhere else where they will be appreciated. ''I've been blessed. So why not bless someone else?'' he asked.
During this Christmas season, Andy was honored at the Holiday Tree Festival — sponsored by Akron Children's Hospital — with his own tree at the John S. Knight Center.
The ''Raggedy Andy'' tree, decorated by Sunny Roop of Hudson, sold for $2,000. ''I loved it,'' Andy said, putting his own quirky spin on it: ''I just never understood why it had to be so raggedy.''
Make no mistake about it, Andy's injuries have not insulated him from other problems.
Like so many others who lost money when the Carousel Dinner Theatre unceremoniously closed its doors, Andy Holcomb is out of big money.
He purchased season tickets, just days earlier, for his family of six to the tune of $1,314. Because he paid cash, he has little chance of getting his money back.
''I went out there on Jan. 2 to try to get our money back,'' Sheila Holcomb railed. ''The woman told me to come back on Monday. I did and the doors were locked.''
Asked how he felt about Carousel taking his money, Andy had this to say, ''It made my heart frown. Not just for me, but for everybody that this happened to.''
Asked what he was most looking forward to in the new year, Andy had quite the list:
''I want to drive.
''I want to be in the wheelchair — all day, every day.
''I want to travel. That would just be awesome. I'd like to go to Disney World and to Gettysburg . . .''
Until then, Andy Holcomb will be busy living on the lyrics of the gospel song Looking for a Miracle:
I'm looking for a miracle,
I expect the impossible,
I feel the intangible,
I see the invisible . . .
Sounds like an OK destination to me.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.