Even Through Unimaginable Pain, Marcus Engel Emerges as an Inspiration

By Hannah Stacy

Marcus Engel has a remarkable sense of humor, compassion for others, and profound observations that have made him an inspiration to a great number of people. He is proof that you can overcome even the most trying obstacles in life, personally having come back from the brink.

Marcus shared his story at Goodwin College on Monday, November 5, speaking to an audience of students and staff members in the Auditorium.

His story started out with a familiar theme of a small-town kid adjusting to change. When he was 18 years old, he found himself transitioning from life on a farm in a town of 250 people to living in a dorm of over 900 students at Missouri State University.

About six weeks into college, Marcus became homesick and returned home for a visit. He and friends went to see his favorite hockey team, the St. Louis Blues. After the game, Marcus hopped into the passenger seat of the car. The teenagers pulled up to an intersection, stopping at a red light. Once the light turned green, his friend, Tom, pressed the gas.

A drunk driver traveling at twice the speed limit slammed into the car broadside, with Marcus receiving the heaviest blow. All Marcus saw were the bright headlights close to his face. He had a split second to realize what was happening before going into shock.

Marcus Engel and his seeing-eye dog, Garrett, during a visit to Goodwin in 2011. The speaker returned in early November 2012 to again share his story about overcoming adversity.

Marcus found shock to be “a gift the human body receives when an experience is so bad that the mind blocks it out.” He doesn’t remember “doing four or five barrel rolls, landing on the hood, or being thrown from the car.”

When the shock subsided, he found himself lying face-down on the pavement. All the bones in his face were crushed.

“I couldn’t scream because my mouth was full of blood, teeth, and gas,” he said. When he finally was able to breathe and let out a cry for help he realized his left jaw was hanging off its hinge. “That was the moment I thought I was going to die.”

“How many of you have said that you thought you were going to die?” Marcus asked the audience. He recalled the first time he had that feeling at a middle school dance. He built up enough courage to ask a girl to dance, but she just walked away. That feeling of false dread is familiar, but facing actual death is far from funny, he explained.

Marcus asked the audience to imagine that all five senses are gone: you wake up in the morning and you aren’t able to hear your alarm clock or feel the warm blankets wrapped around you. You can’t see the sun shining through your window, smell the bacon cooking on the stove, or taste your freshly brewed coffee.

After the accident, Marcus woke up in the hospital with no senses except earth-shattering pain. He went in and out of consciousness and the events at the hospital came in bits and pieces. “Once in a while, without warning, I was aware and entered into a world of terror, darkness, and pain,” he said.

The doctors needed to create a new airway for breathing in his throat, so Marcus was not able to speak for three weeks. His aunt handed him a legal pad and asked him to write out the questions he wanted answered.  He learned he had been hit by a drunk driver and that his friends were still alive.

At one point, he remembers feeling a soft hand holding his and a sweet, quiet, female voice repeating; “Hey Marcus. My name is Jennifer. You were in a car accident.” Jennifer also whispered two critical, comforting words: “I’m here.”

“I didn’t even know where I was or where ‘here’ was, but I knew I wasn’t alone,” Marcus said.  “As humans, in the midst of trauma, we all want someone on our side. I don’t think there was anything better for me at the time.”

Jennifer was a 20-year-old volunteer. She didn’t have a degree, certifications, or years of experience behind her. She just understood the need for human connection. “This type of compassion must be in the mind, hearts, and souls of all people who are in healthcare,” he said.

Marcus offered advice to the Goodwin nursing students.  “Imagine being my parents. What is more torturous that watching someone you love in pain? Step back and think about that before you criticize the families who are helpless.”

He felt helpless in that hospital bed, but realized that the only thing he could change was his attitude. “Change the things you can and don’t worry about the rest. What other choice do you have?” he asked, then quoted a line from a Bob Dylan song; “Negativity don’t pull you through.”

Marcus began to count his blessings. he was alive and still had his family, friends, and a functioning brain. He would move forward as best he could.

Marcus spent over 350 hours on the operating table. He went one year without solid food. He had to have his face completely reconstructed through plastic surgery. He moved to Denver, Colorado to attend an 18-month program for adults who were forced to adjust to blindness.

At the program, Marcus learned to read Braille and developed other adaptive living skills. After five months, he asked to graduate early from the program so he could go back to college.

Graduation required two tasks. First, he had to prepare, cook, and clean up a meal to feed the staff and students. The second task, called “the Drop,” was to find his way back to the facility after being dropped off in a random location. He completed both successfully 13 months early.

Marcus now resides in Orlando and is married with step-children. He has an adorable seeing-eye dog named Garrett. “I have to introduce him so he doesn’t walk me into a truck or something,” he joked.

Marcus is the author of several books and is a sought after professional speaker. He holds a B.S. in sociology from Missouri State University and an M.S. in Narrative Medicine, which he described as “a combination of health care, literature, philosophy, and communications.”

To learn more about Marcus visit his website at: www. marcusengel.com.


Posted on November 7, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hannah Stacy, thank you for the well written article! I was unaware of the speaker attending our school and am disappointed to have missed it. I got a glimpse of what it was like to hear him speak through your article, and I was moved as I am positive I would’ve been had I been there in person.

  2. Rebecca- I’m glad you enjoyed the article! It was a very moving and inspiring story and I’m happy I was able to share it. Thank you for your comment 🙂

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