Keep pedaling

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Katherine Tereyama
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The man was visibly nervous, but he lowered his helmet over his head, gave his wife a kiss, and pedaled off down the mountain trail he had nearly lost his life on just one year before.

Staff Sgt. Alex Mace, a Parkersburg, W. Va. native stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, has overcome things in the past year that would have killed most people, and nearly killed him.

While riding on a trail in Piancavallo, Italy, June 24, 2012, Mace took a jump too fast and the resulting crash snapped his sternum, lacerated the upper quarter of his heart, and dissected his aorta, causing him traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries that left him paralyzed.  The crash also broke both elbows, his wrist and all the ribs on his left side, which in turn pierced both of his lungs, ruptured his liver and his kidneys.

Doctors told his wife, Leticia, that he was dead. He had flat lined on the emergency helicopter en route to the hospital.

"I said 'If I have to bury my husband, I want to bury him wholehearted, so please just put his heart back together,'" Leticia recalled. "They thought I was crazy but they did it anyway."

During the surgery, the doctors worked to glue parts of the heart back together per Leticia's request. What happened next, she recalls, was "unbelievable."

"We waited what seemed like endless hours and when I saw the stern faces of the surgeons, I assumed the worst," Leticia said. "But his bed came right behind them and he was full of tubes and wires and he was on life support but they had managed to put him back together. He was breathing, not on his own, but he was definitely alive."

Leticia was told before the surgery that her husband only had a one percent chance of living and even if he beat the odds and woke from his coma, he would be unable to function for the rest of his life. The doctors predicted he would be in a coma for six months.

He woke up three days later.

His wife was sitting by the hospital bed when he opened eyes clouded with jaundice from his ruptured liver.

"Babe, I'm fighting," he told her.

"I remember thinking 'You're lucky just to be alive,' but I still pushed and whenever they left me alone in the room, I tried my hardest to make my feet and my legs move," Mace said. "Two weeks later, I got out of bed and I took my first two steps. And I have not slowed down ever since.

"The doctors were amazed by how it had gone from so bad, to so good in so short a time, against any data they had ever seen."

The father of five credits the help of his family, friends and upbringing as the reason for his miraculous recovery.

"You need to have some stubbornness in you. But no matter how much of that you have, at some point that stubbornness is eventually going to give way," Mace said. "You need people to support you. Sometimes you'll want to [stop] and it's the people around you who will motivate you and sometimes even carry you over a part where you just can't make it on your own."

In June, Mace passed his physical fitness test with a score of 92. He also learned he was being promoted to technical sergeant, and was among the top 15 percent of all staff sergeants in the Air Force.

"In a matter of one year's time, he has managed to beat every obstacle that was against him," Leticia said. "We brought it full circle today with the final step of going back up that mountain. We are getting over our fears and our anxiety."

Mace says he has learned so much over the past year and plans to use those lessons to more fully cherish his life, his family and his new beginning.

"My memories of the past year are precious. They're memories I never want to forget," Mace said. "It has helped me see that there is so much in life to appreciate and live for and I realize that I've been given a second chance and I want to make it count."

As he completed the ride, Mace bowed his head as the memories from his accident came rushing back, then he looked up and continued back up the mountain for a second ride.

"It's a good day. The sun is on our face and it's a good day."