Mr. Miracle

Brian Boyle was nearly killed when a dump truck blindsided his car. Three years later, he'll compete in Hawaii's Ironman triathlon

October 12, 2007|By Article by Candus Thomson | Article by Candus Thomson,Sun reporter

WELCOME -- Three years after a car accident almost crushed the life out of him, Brian Boyle's body is catching up with his spirit.

Tomorrow, the St. Mary's College junior will toe the starting line with more than 1,500 triathletes to compete in the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The competition - a marathon run, a 112-mile bike ride and a 2.4-mile swim - tests the physical and mental limits of participants. But, in many ways, that's the easy part for Boyle, whose muscled torso is stitched with angry-looking scars and whose skin still releases flecks of black paint and shards of glass.

Winning isn't in the cards. Boyle, 21, has been training for a few months and has only a half-triathlon and last month's Annapolis Triathlon under his belt. But winning, he says, isn't the point - at least for now.

"Friends say, `Brian, you're a miracle.' I didn't believe it at first. I was [angry]. I was bitter. But I believe that now. I want to inspire people who have been in an accident, regular people who don't have hope. I want to ignite the fire in them," he says.

Coming home from swimming practice on a back road near his Charles County home on July 6, 2004, Brian Boyle reached the intersection of Poorhouse and Ridley roads, a dangerous junction with limited visibility that has been a source of contention in the neighborhood. As he eased his Chevy Camaro out from the stop sign, a massive dump truck roared from the blind spot to his left and plowed into the driver's side door.

"I was going home, and that's the last thing I remember," he says. "The mind is good that way."

Pictures taken by the La Plata Volunteer Fire Department show there was little left of the front seats. The list of what was wrong with Boyle seemed longer than what was still OK: His heart was dislodged, he had broken ribs, clavicle and pelvis and had lost 60 percent of his blood.

Dr. Said Daee, the head of Prince George's Hospital Center's trauma team that day, said a colleague assessing Boyle's injuries wondered aloud about the value of performing surgery.

"No," Daee recalls replying, "I have to do this. I have to try."

While repairing the damage, Daee says, "Two times I remember saying, `Oh God, I'm losing this guy.' Not too many people expected him to make it."

His mother, JoAnne, remembers the call from the hospital, which offered few details. But knowing that Prince George's was the region's trauma center gave her chills.

When JoAnne Boyle met her husband, Garth, in the waiting room of Prince George's Hospital Center, a nurse asked whether Brian was their only child.

"When we said, `Yes,' she got tears in her eyes," JoAnne Boyle recalls.

But whether it was the Lucky Charms he had for breakfast, the skill of the Prince George's medical team, his youth and conditioning or all of the above, Boyle survived the first day and then a second one. He spent two months in a coma as doctors worked to save his life and then to help him function again.

Total commitment

Daee, a surgeon for 27 years, insists that all the expert medical care in the world wouldn't have mattered without Boyle's youth and spirit and his parents' total commitment to their son. "He's not a crybaby. He's a fighter and a fantastic young man," Daee says.

His parents rarely left the hospital. The inside of the pantry door in his parents' kitchen is covered with 154 sticky visitor's passes from Prince George's. It wasn't long before hospital staff began talking to his parents about finding an assisted living facility closer to home. Their son, the experts said, would never walk and most likely would not be able to care for himself.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, Boyle saw his parents crying and had the vague sense that something was horribly wrong. Although he was in pain, his parents seemed to be in more.

"Every day was a roller coaster. Some ups and some downs, but mostly downs," JoAnne Boyle says. "Every day Brian looked different. Every day was a new obstacle."

Boyle acknowledges that, after the first month, when he couldn't speak or move, he gave up hope.

"I realized my dreams were over. I wanted to go to college, to be a Navy SEAL. I didn't want to be a vegetable. I said my last prayers to end the suffering. I was ready to go. I didn't care anymore," he says.

But the next thing he knew, his father was yelling at him, cursing a blue streak, telling Brian that if he didn't make it, he, Garth, wasn't going to, either.

The young man with the heart and soul of an athlete began competing - to live - again.

Having prided himself on "being Mr. Buff," Boyle was shaken to see his muscles had atrophied and he had lost more than 100 pounds. At first, he couldn't believe the tasks he faced in physical therapy. "`Brian, squeeze this towel,' they'd say," he recalls. "This towel? My therapy wasn't about learning to walk, it was about holding a towel."

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