Hemiplegic’s recovery tells inspiring story of positivity, friendship

  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Taylor Griffith/Journal Scene From left, Rich O’Brien and Fred Gutierrez helped each other recover after severe injuries.

May 18, 1996 was a life-changing day for Summerville’s Fred Gutierrez. The then-40-year-old U.S. Naval officer took a .38-caliber pistol and shot himself in the head, an attempted suicide. He calls his survival nothing less than a miracle.

“God was there to intervene,” he said. “There’s really no other explanation.”

The shot left a golf ball-sized hole in Gutierrez’s head and caused paralyzation on his left side, but he survived.

By May 25, 1996, Gutierrez’s doctor said he would never walk again. Three months later he was doing that, too.

Gutierrez said at first he could only walk three steps, then 15 feet, then down the hallway of the hospital, then a mile on the treadmill.

Five and a half years ago, Summerville’s Rich O’Brien was in a devastating accident that broke his neck and back. Shortly after returning home he decided to go to church for the first time in a long time. Still bruised and bandaged from his accident, O’Brien walked in Summerbook Community Church. The first person he met was Gutierrez.

The two immediately became friends, and through their friendship each man helped the other recover.

“My recovery took three and a half years. As I improved, Fred told me I inspired him,” O’Brien said.

For 16 years, Gutierrez lived with intense, constant pain, what he rates a 9 on the pain scale. After God came to him in a dream, he said, he began getting Botox injections, which helped calm his muscle spasms. The pain reduced to a level five.

After listening to a recommendation from O’Brien, Gutierrez started receiving acupuncture one year ago. Not only did the pain diminish again, to a level 3, but he has also, amazingly, regained mobility.

Originally unable to move his left leg more than an inch off the ground, Gutierrez can now lift his foot to his knee. Similarly, before acupuncture he was barely able to move his left arm. Now the left hemiplegic proudly waves the arm over his head.

Gutierrez said the combined treatment of Botox and acupuncture has set the former pain medication addict free from his addiction.

The two claim their friend-mentor relationship has helped save their lives. Acupuncture is just one example, though.

While working on continuing his recovery, and with a bit of encouragement from O’Brien, Gutierrez began playing golf with his friend once a week. He set a new goal quickly: to walk 36 holes of golf.

On March 5, 2013, Gutierrez accomplished his goal.

And on the event’s one-year anniversary, the mayor and the Town of Summerville honored Gutierrez for his positive attitude and unwavering determination to overcome his disability. Mayor Bill Collins presented him with a resolution honoring his accomplishments.

O’Brien said Mayor Collins approached him about honoring Gutierrez after hearing his story, and O’Brien suggested March 5 as the day to award him the resolution.

“Fred’s indomitable spirit and smile are infectious,” he said. “It’s a story that needs to be told.”

And the men have set out to tell their stories – of their accidents, their recoveries and their friendship. Gutierrez and O’Brien have co-authored a book, tentatively called “Better Days Are Ahead,” to help support others in similar situations.

“I just want to help people who are disabled. You don’t have to wait for help. It was years before I even heard of Botox,” Gutierrez said. “You don’t have to feel like you’re useless. You have worth.”

They are working with local editors to get the book published.

But meeting his golfing goal and writing a book isn’t enough for the hemiplegic. Next up, he is going to learn how to play the guitar again.

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