Truck driver in serious crash survives despite being trapped underwater

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. While you've hopefully taken some time to count your blessings this Thanksgiving weekend, no one has more to be thankful for than a truck driver from eastern Arkansas who owes his life to a piece of equipment at a Springfield hospital that was rushed to his side after an accident.

"You see it on TV, people trapped under water. And you really think nothing of it until it falls in your lap."

That was the reaction of Jerry Faggett to a life-altering story that fell in his lap at the start of November when he was heading back home to the West Memphis area from St. Louis in his semi-truck on a rainy night. He was in the Missouri bootheel, near Hayti, when his 18-wheeler hyrdroplaned, sending him into a water-filled ditch.

"I hit that water so hard that it made my trailer come all the way over and crush me," Faggett recalled. "I was submerged underwater for about an hour-and-a-half to two-hours. Totally submerged underwater. I just knew it was over."

But a machine from Mercy hospital in Springfield, four hours away, helped save Jerry's life.

It's called an ECMO pump.

"ECMO stands for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation," said Doug Kirk, Mercy's ECMO Coordinator.

ECMO is similar to a heart-lung by-pass machine used in open heart surgery. It pumps the patient's blood outside the body while the lungs and heart recover.

The nearest ECMO machines available to help Jerry were in Springfield. And an emergency crew from Mercy made the eight hour round trip to the bootheel to pick up Jerry and hook him up to the mobile life-support system while work was being done to clear his respratory tract.

"Since he was submerged he took on vast quantities of muddy water," said Kirk, who was part of the crew that made the trip. "We were suctioning out lots of muddy water out of his nose, out of the back of his throat, and out of his lungs directly."

Despite his lungs being filled with muddy water for hours, Jerry turned out to be a very fortunate man thanks to the ECMO machine that took over his breathing functions.

"Very fortunate," Kirk said. "If it weren't for ECMO, he probably wouldn't be alive today. Patients we put on this have a greater than 80% chance of dying (because of the seriousness of their situation that requires using the ECMO). So the odds were stacked against him."

With his wife and mom at his side back at Mercy, Jerry, who's also a pastor and former firefighter and military veteran, knows he was spared for a reason.

"They call me the miracle man," he said with a smile. "I found out that I am stronger than I've ever been. But I know who it was that kept me here. It was God."

And he's obviously a big fan of the ECMO pump.

"It really works," he said. "It's a long road to recovery, and I've still got a long way to go. But I'll get there."

Jerry is now going through rehab at Mercy and is progressing a lot faster than expected. And he offers this advice for others who may be struggling with life's tough turns.

"If you don't put nothing in it, you won't get anything out of it," he said. "So make the best of whatever you're doing. Fight the fight. Just keep on pushin.'"