By Christopher Smith
For Benjamin Daniel Jr., Sept. 22, 2012, doesn’t exist.
It’s a date he’ll never forget but a day he doesn’t remember. It’s the day he drove his motorcycle head-on into a Toyota 4-Runner on Maple Grove Road in Whitfield County and was pronounced dead at the scene by Georgia State Patrol officials.
Even though Daniel has no memory of the day of the wreck — and only scattered memories of the weeks after — he knows one thing for sure. He isn’t dead.
The Daily Citizen reported on the 18-year-old Northwest Whitfield High School graduate’s progress on Nov. 16, 2012. Back then, Daniel was bound to a powered wheelchair after being revived twice at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga.
Today, he’s out of the hospital and walking.
“It was very tough,” Daniel said. “I was a guy stuck in a hospital bed, never getting to go outside, never seeing the outside except through my window. I love being outside and it was very hard not to be able to do that. I would get mad at people that were helping me and frustrated that I was stuck ... when it rained outside my window, I would just break down and cry.”
That’s what made watching Daniel’s recovery so difficult, said his father, Benjamin Daniel Sr.
“I felt hurt for him. He was hurting and there was nothing I could do about it,” he said. “I had no problems with God. Everything that’s happened to me is because of God. And I know that my son is here by the grace of God.”
Daniel said he spent 39 days recovering in hospitals with most of the time split between Erlanger and the Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation, also in Chattanooga. As more people visited him or sent letters of encouragement, Daniel said he felt “very blessed; very loved.”
“God saved me that day. As frustrated as I was, I don’t think I ever had my faith tested during all this. I mean, I was dead on the scene and God brought me out from that. And I died on the operating table and he brought me back from that, too. And I know how I can take this and bless someone else with what I’ve gone through so I know good can come out of it.
“I can’t question God when I know good is coming from it. There’s nothing that God can’t do. The wreck sort of made me realize how God says in the Bible that — no matter what— someone will be there for you, there will be a shoulder to cry on.”
A few shoulders, said Dale Brewer, Daniel’s youth pastor from Church of God of the Union Assembly. Northwest High students raised donations for Daniel during halftime at home football games and with bake sales last year, while the church youth group constantly visited Daniel as he recovered at Siskin.
“One particular night we took the youth group to Siskin. We wanted to surprise Ben. The staff there welcomed us and made a meeting room available to us and brought Ben in ... When he came in everyone just started crying. We went with the intent to encourage him. He was facing this daunting rehab. And Ben begins to tell us how blessed he is, and how he feels God has blessed him and there was this big emotional moment.
“Here he was in a wheelchair, hadn’t been outside in weeks, and he’s telling us how much God has blessed him? Well, that changed me. That made 40 years of preaching ask for forgiveness. I asked God to forgive me for ever complaining about my circumstances. I’ve never been more proud of a young man. That’s the real power in all this: to see God raise up a young man willing to turn tragedy and anguish into glory. He lived through all this and he’s doing fine. He can walk now almost without limping.”
But full recovery will take some time or might not come at all. His stride probably will never return to what it was before the accident because a metal rod in his right leg is preventing it from growing like his left leg. It’s just another “minor hurdle,” Daniel said.
“It was December, I think, when I started freely walking,” he said. “I think I could walk to our creek (outside the house) now. But walking for long still hurts my back and I have to use a brace or a walker sometimes. I don’t remember exactly when I decided to start trying to walk. I remember being aggravated and thinking, ‘This is uncalled for.’ I wanted to get up.”
“He pushes his limits,” Tamara Tankersley, Daniel’s stepsister, said. “Maybe more than he should sometimes. I just know we’re lucky to have him with us. We could have definitely lost him.”