By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – It’s been almost three months since John Kimball nearly lost his life in an automobile accident, a long road to recovery after both of his legs were crushed and his left arm was broken when he collided with a cement truck outside of Water Valley on Hwy. 32. But as tough as this journey has been, the traumatic experience has instilled a renewed appreciation for life for Kimball as his friends, family members and co-workers have provided immeasurable support and love during his recovery.
Kimball lives in Pontotoc and on the morning of Sept. 14 he was making his daily commute to Yalobusha General Hospital where he is employed by Mid South Rehab Services as a SLP (Speech Language Pathologist). He recalled that he had briefly looked down at his new Apple watch and when he looked back up, he had veered into the path of the approaching truck.
“It hit me and crushed in the left side of my car,” Kimball explained. Pinned under the dash, both legs were crushed. It took time for first responders to cut through his mangled vehicle to free him, moments Kimball vividly recalls. He knew his legs felt numb, but had no idea of the extent of his injuries.
At one point, he remembers becoming hysterical.
“I called my wife and basically told her good-bye, I thought the car was gonna burst into flames and I was going to get burned alive. I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Kimball recalled as he shared the details of the emotional experience last week with his co-workers at the hospital. Although he is walking again and expected to make a full recovery, he was perched in a wheelchair with his wife, Miranda Kimball, standing behind him. His boss, Mid South Rehab President Steven Cole, was also sitting beside him.
The group had gathered for a drawing, a raffle that raised over $3,000 for the family that was coordinated by Mid South Rehab.
“This whole experience has been a God thing, blessing John and healing him,” Cole explained before the drawing. “If you look at the car, he should not have survived that. It’s a miracle he is walking.”
This was not Cole’s first time to visit Kimball since the accident, he made the trip to Regional One Health in Memphis, where Kimball was a patient for two weeks and underwent three surgeries. Other Mid South Rehab employees had also made the trip, even spending hours to wait for him to return from surgery.
“Mr. Cole came the first week I was in Memphis to see me, and to tell me about the help they were going to give me and my family,” Kimball continues. “He came to pray with me, I can’t begin to thank Mid-South.”
The discussion returns to the morning of the accident, back to those terrifying moments when he was pinned in his vehicle. Kimball recalls a crowd had gathered. He also remembers a Water Valley High School student, Larkin Gardiner, a cheerleader who stopped on the road on her way to school to see if she could help.
“She was being comforted by another lady. When I looked at her and saw how distraught she was, I tried to calm myself,” Kimball continued. “I started cracking jokes, trying to lighten the mood, I didn’t want her to feel distraught.”
He has since connected with her and learned she felt compelled to stay on the scene, even though she couldn’t help.
“I feel like God put her there to help keep me calm. There were a lot of people working to get me out of the car, and they needed me to be calm,” Kimball added.
The driver of the cement truck, Ronnie Blackwood, made the trip to Memphis to see Kimball after the wreck.
“I was explaining that I was scared the car was going to burn. He said I didn’t have to worry about that, he had plenty of water on the cement truck,” Kimball said.
“When people help me, when I can’t help myself, they make me a better person,” he explained.
Next he remembers the helicopter ride to Memphis, and recalls family members also rushing to get to the hospital to be with him. One brother lives in Memphis and was there first. His parents were already en route to Memphis for a surprise visit that weekend.
“My family has been amazing, it just shows me how much of a plan God has,” he continues. His family members alternated spending time with him, allowing Miranda time to attend school events with their five year-old son, Jack, as Kimball slowly improved.
Kimball has only been employed with Mid South Rehab for just over a year, but he explained the family atmosphere was a blessing, even before the wreck. When it was time to leave the Memphis hospital on Sept. 28, he told his health care providers that he wanted to spend the rest of his recovery time at Yalobusha General Hospital.
That was on a Sunday, and first thing Monday morning, Sept. 29, Kimball said all of his co-workers came to his room in the Water Valley hospital. He is out of the hospital now, attending physical therapy three times a week and excited about returning to his job soon.
“I think God has us go through all experiences, good and bad, for a reason. It has really brought everyone together. Everyone has really rallied around John. From the hospital CEO, getting him in this hospital after he left the Med and not being concerned about how we are going to get compensated. Just taking care of John. And to be able to see him walk is awesome,” Cole adds.
“With no real permanent damage, he will have pain but he has all of his feeling. He has his legs, he can walk, he has his life,” Miranda said.
“One of the things we wanted to do for John is raise some money for his family,” Cole continues. “With Miranda a stay-at-home mom and having a special needs child, John was the bread-winner for the family. The one thing I wanted to do is make sure they didn’t have to worry about finances,” Cole said.
Kimball hasn’t missed a check, co-workers have donated time and the company has also helped.
“I feel like my faith has been renewed,” Kimball added, explaining that he thanks God every day for the blessings that have followed the ordeal, a prayer life that now focuses on others who may be hurting.
Kimball also has strong advice for anyone behind the wheel.
“Before you get in your car, text whoever, call whoever, and take your cell phone and throw it in the back seat. Wherever you are going, just get there and then look at your phone,” he stressed. “It was a narrow, curvy road, I should have just waited. To all the drivers, especially the young drivers out there, I was lucky. Just wait.”