After the Crash
By James Meredith
July 15, 2012
It was a beautiful summer afternoon in 2007, a very ordinary day. Josiah Sullivan and his girlfriend at the time, Ashley, drove along Interstate 84 near Mountain Home, Idaho. This particular stretch of road, however, was known for an unusually high rate of accidents.
As they chatted, enjoying the scenery, the red Ford Probe drifted into the median. Suddenly the car spun out of control, flipping twice and landing on its wheels. During the roll, the roof collapsed and Josiah’s head broke through the sunroof.
When emergency crews arrived, they confronted a horrifying sight, as Josiah’s head protruded from the top of the crushed car. Presuming Josiah to be dead, they checked on Ashley, who was badly shaken yet suffered only scrapes and bruises.
But the EMT sent to confirm Josiah’s death quickly discovered that the 18-year-old was very much alive — and talking. It was just the beginning of God’s intervention.
Only weeks before, Josiah had completed an EMT class in high school. Exercising a level of composure only God could give, he recognized exactly what had happened to him.
“I need a C-collar,” he calmly explained to a surprised EMT.
That same peace permeated Josiah throughout those traumatic moments.
“I knew I had to stay calm, for my own sake as well as for Ashley,” says Josiah. “God helped me stay calm.”
As Josiah was being airlifted to Boise, his parents received the call that their son had been in a terrible crash. They arrived at the hospital to find a grim prognosis.
“The surgeon told us, ‘You need to say goodbye to your son,’” recalls Josiah’s mother, LeAnn.
Yet their resolve and faith in God remained unshaken.
“We just told the surgeon, ‘We serve a God who can heal this boy,’” she says. “‘You will bring my son back to me.’”
During five hours of surgery, Josiah’s fractured C5 vertebra was removed and replaced with titanium mesh. The family’s prayers were answered, as God spared their son. Yet this marked the beginning of Josiah’s life as a quadriplegic.
Through four days of recovery in ICU, Josiah slowly came to grips with the new course his life had taken. Josiah’s father, Kent, recalls that the family made a choice.
“We decided that if Josiah being a quadriplegic was the outcome, then we would do what we had to do to stay together as a family. We would press on together.”
The following two months were filled with activity. Paralyzed from the chest down, Josiah needed to relearn even the simplest daily tasks. Through rehab and occupational therapy, he discovered new ways to brush his teeth, shave, comb his hair, and grab things without moving his fingers.
As Kent and LeAnn faced the prospect of preparing their house for Josiah’s return, they experienced another miracle.
“Our house was not suitable for the situation; even our three bedrooms were all upstairs,” says LeAnn. “But the builder of our home volunteered to renovate and expand the house to make it handicap-accessible, free of charge. Several churches from the Southern Idaho District of the Assemblies of God also contributed finances, materials and labor to complete the addition on the house. It was truly God’s provision at work.”
This recognition of God’s goodness was reflected in Josiah as he wrestled with the adjustments and challenges of his new life. Through it all, one dynamic remained constant: a resounding, unshakeable faith in God.
“I had two choices,” Josiah explains. “I could sit there and cry and be a bum all my life. Or I could keep on living.”
Josiah’s optimism became contagious. Nurses in the hospital started taking their breaks in his room because they knew it to be a peaceful and uplifting place. Josiah was making an impact. And it was just the beginning.
What could have been a dark, despondent chapter in his life instead marked the birth of a bright, new story. God spoke to his heart, Josiah says, filling it with promise that this circumstance would become an opportunity for Him to use Josiah in ways yet unseen.
Five years later, Josiah has watched God open numerous doors of opportunity. Active in lacrosse throughout high school, he now serves as head coach at Vallivue High School in Caldwell, his alma mater.
His schedule also includes regular games of wheelchair rugby. Josiah notes it is still a contact sport; now it’s simply chairs instead of bodies crashing together. And it gives him opportunity to build friendships with other quadriplegics.
Josiah’s rehab hospital calls on him when it receives a patient facing the same kind of injuries he confronted. In those frightening, uncertain moments, as patients grapple with what the future holds, Josiah is there to counsel and guide them through the process.
He helps them see that there’s life after a spinal cord injury. And he’s able to show them hope in a way few others ever could. In many cases, Josiah stays in touch with the patients long after they leave the hospital.
Josiah’s EMT training continues to pay off. At his former teacher’s invitation, he visits classes in area schools each year, sharing his story and giving students a chance to ask questions. While he cannot share his faith directly in a public school, he can talk about the role church plays in his life. Above all, in Josiah students see a strong example of the power of hope.
That word — hope — forms the key to enduring the worst of tragedies; it opens the door to an outlook God can use for His glory, no matter the circumstances.
“From the outset, doctors emphasized that a positive attitude is necessary to push a spinal injury patient past the emotional barriers to live a full, effective life,” Kent says. “We determined to keep a positive attitude always.”
That positive attitude has created countless opportunities for Josiah to testify of God’s grace in uniquely compelling ways. Whether it’s a medical staff drawn to the hope they see in a teenager teetering between life and death, or a high school student watching courage in action in a classroom, Josiah’s staunch faith has had an enduring impact.
Josiah remains focused on the future. He’s currently pursuing a degree at Boise (Idaho) State University College of Business and Economics and making plans to start his own business. The contacts he generates will open numerous doors of opportunity to impact his community for Christ in years to come.
Meanwhile, Josiah continues to rehab, and prepare for whatever God has in store. He’s active in Chi Alpha ministries at Boise State, helping that ministry grow and share the hope of Christ on campus. Every day presents new opportunities.
“God will be there with you and help you through anything — if you let Him,” Josiah says. “My life verse is Romans 8:28. No matter your circumstances, God has a plan for your life. If you’re living for His purpose, He will work everything out for the best.”
Josiah Sullivan lives in Nampa, Idaho. Kent Sullivan is youth and children’s ministries director for the Southern Idaho District Council of the Assemblies of God. LeAnn Sullivan serves as district BGMC coordinator.
JAMES MEREDITH is technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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