Featured Trauma Survivor

My Survivor Story

Photo of Mike Czawlytko

On Saturday October 13th, 2007 I went bow-hunting alone on my property near Lineboro, MD. I was standing in a handmade tree-stand, 25 feet above ground, which was made out of heavy pressure-treated lumber.

Sitting in my loft and observing the wildlife, I heard a “pop” from my tree stand. Unsure of exactly what caused the popping sound, I tested the stand by hugging the tree trunk and putting pressure on the stand to determine if the mounting was still solid. Everything appeared to be secure, so I decided to stay in the stand and repair the stand after my morning hunt.

Around 8:00 am, I was getting reading to climb out of my stand and decided to stand up and draw my bow back to see if it would be encumbered by any overhead branches. It takes 70lbs. of pressure to draw the bow. As I tried to slowly ease the bow back into a relaxed state, the string pressure cause me to lunge forward””putting increased weight on the base of the stand. At that instant, I had the surreal sensation of falling. I wasn't falling out of the stand but falling with the stand. The entire wooden structure became detached from the tree trunk and was falling to the ground with me in it.

Half-way down the tree was a stout limb. When the stand hit the limb, it pivoted violently and dumped me over the side of the stand, as if I was getting ejected from a bucket of a huge back-hoe.

When I hit the ground, I knew I was hurt. I tried to wiggle my toes, then move my feet. Once I could do this, I was relieved that I could be mobile. In an attempt to stand, I immediately knew walking was not an option. I gently lowered myself to the forest floor, now on my stomach; I inched across the ground using my feet to propel my body forward. At this point I found it difficult to raise my head, so my cheek was sliding across the ground as I moved forward. Luckily, there was a heavy leaf cover on the ground to give my face some cushion from the rocky terrain.

Throughout the morning I made little progress and moved a few inches at a time. The pain was so intense I passed out several times. One time when I opened my eyes from being unconscious I noticed the tree shadow angle was very different, meaning I was unconscious for at least a couple of hours. There was a small 6” diameter tree lying across the ground in front of me. I couldn't lift my body over this 6” obstacle and therefore, had to crawl around it. This took about 45 minutes just to take a detour of 20 feet.

At 4:00 pm, I made it out of the woods into an open field. It was all uphill from there. It took another 4 hours to crawl the 350 yards to my garage, where luckily I had a phone to call 911.

Twelve hours after the fall, the EMT team arrived and asked how I injured myself. They concluded that I had an injured back and thus positioned me on a flat board. A helicopter was called and I was flown to University of Maryland Shock Trauma.

At this point I could finally relax; I knew I was in good hands. I feel very fortunate to live in an area that has a world renowned trauma center a short helicopter ride away. I don't remember much about the helicopter, just the sound of the whirling blades and people attending to me during the ride to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Once the doctors started to examine me, my fears were realized as I was told I had 4 individual breaks in my lower back, a couple broken ribs, damaged lung, lacerated liver and a broken occipital bone at the base of my scull.

The care I received while at the University of Maryland was outstanding. I always felt the staff knew exactly what they were doing, even if I didn't. When one has a traumatic injury we really don't have the knowledge or experience to know the extent of our own injuries. It was comforting to know I had the some of the world's best doctors and hospital staff taking care of me.

After several days at University of Maryland Hospital I was transferred to Kernan Rehabilitation Hospital. At Kernan the task of getting better reverted back to me with their assistance. The Kernan staff pushed my limits, always wanting me to achieve more than the day before. It was a milestone to just standup, and then walk a few steps. After a while I could walk with the assistance of a walker to the hospital door, then one day I walked outside and up the sidewalk. I knew then with perseverance I was on my way to recovery.

When I was released from Kernan I had much support from family and friends. I still wasn't able to live completely unassisted so I stayed with a friend for a few months. Every day I pushed myself to do a little more. It takes hard work and a good attitude to make a recovery. I can't stress the importance of having a positive attitude enough.

After a traumatic injury we may feel sorry for ourselves and wonder “why me?” My father taught me some important lessons in life and the most apropos is to be thankful for what we have. Some people seek pity for what they lost but, it is our philosophy to be thankful for what we still have.

Life isn't always static; sometimes it's filled with joy sometimes with pain. We should cherish the joyous times and during the times of pain we should realize it could have been worst and be thankful that it wasn't. No matter how severe our trauma I would wager we could imagine something worst.

I remember all the visitors in the hospitals and at home, I enjoyed their company and appreciated their concern but, the one thing they couldn't provide is someone to speak to that truly had firsthand knowledge of what I was going though. Sure, the doctors and nurses treat hundreds of patients just like us, but they are always looking down at the bed never up from it. This is where Trauma Survivors Network (TSN) comes in. We are just as the name states a network of trauma survivors. A president once said , “I feel your pain” well no, he didn't. He may have thought he understood it but, he didn't feel it.

Well, the peer visitors at TSN have felt pain, we looked up from the hospital bed with fear and anxiety wondering what is next; another operation, insurance problems, employment concerns, friend and family that can't understand what we are going though, a recovery that seems to take forever.

As a TSN volunteer I take pride in knowing I can help others though some troubling times. We may not have medical degrees but, we do offer something that all the medical training in the world can't teach.

We been there.


Mike Czawlytko, Trauma Survivor

For more information, please call Program Coordinator Frannie Grissom at 410-328-1375.