Thirteen years ago, Brandon Stone was told that he would probably never walk again. On Wednesday, August 29, he set a new personal record, walking 930 feet. This is his story.
Stone was born to a couple of bright-eyed missionaries, who packed up their family and moved to Brazil in the late 1980s.
He fell in love with soccer on the Brazilian plains, where he played with his older brother and younger sister from ages 8 to 18.
Stone moved back to the states for higher education, playing soccer at Rose State College in Midwest City, Okla., as part of a club at OU and then at Northeastern State University under coach Charlie Mitchell.
“In 2005, when I was 23, I had taken a semester of school and was working on the east coast,” Stone said. “I was working at a Coldstone Creamery, and one night, on my way home from work, I was stopped at a red light…”
A person with schizophrenia, mid hallucination, came speeding up to the intersection and rammed into the back of Stone’s car at 80 mph.
He was trying to kill himself, so he ran into the back of Stone’s car, going about 80 mph.
“It completely crushed my car,” Stone said. “The list of injuries was huge.”
Stone suffered six broken ribs, three broken vertebrae. The trauma caused all his internal organs be shoved up into his chest cavity. The broken vertebrae severely damaged his spinal cord, causing paralysis. Two out of three layers of his descending aorta, part of the body’s largest artery, were torn.
“I was literally millimeters away from bleeding to death,” Stone said.
Emergency crews responded in time to rush Stone to the ER and get him prepped for a 14-hour-long heart surgery.
He pulled through, which was a miracle in and of itself. But that’s when he got the bad news.
“I was laying in my hospital bed. My mom was with me. The doctor came in and said there was a 95 percent chance that I would never walk again,” Stone said, emotion building like thunder in his voice as he recalled the moment. “I remember holding my mom’s hand, and looking at her — asking ‘Mom, am I really never going to walk again?’”
“She just cried and said ‘I don’t know.’”
“We just sat there and cried together,” he said, trying not to cry again, himself.
“Obviously it brings back tears and still hurts to remember, but I’ve overcome the odds so far and I’m going to keep on going,” Stone said.
The doctors were quick to get Stone back on his feet with assisted devices.
“They would hold me up over a treadmill and would physically move my legs for me,” Stone described.
“I let my hair and beard grow out. I said I’m not going to cut my hair or beard until I take my first steps. I have pictures of me looking like Jesus,” Stone said.
One year later, in a ward of St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa, “I officially took my own steps, completely by myself.”
He was clean shaven with buzzed hair later that same day.
“It’s been like a two-steps forward, one step back type of deal,” Stone said.
About three years after the wreck, Stone developed Heterotopic Ossification (HO).
HO is the abnormal growth of bone in the non-skeletal tissues including muscle and tendons. New bone grows at three times the normal rate resulting in jagged, painful joints, according to the University of Pennsylvania Orthopaedic Journal.
“My body started to deposit calcium deposits in my hips, keeping my hips locked. I couldn’t stand up straight because of that,” Stone said.
He had to undergo a surgery where doctor’s chipped away at the extra bone around his hip, and on two other occasions he fell, breaking his arm.
For a while, Stone said, “I was like ‘What’s going to happen next? Why even try? Something else is just going to set me back again.’ ... I had to get over those thoughts and just believe that I had to keep trying and make it through.”
“I’ve slowly been regaining movement and strength in my legs,” Stone said. “Enough where I can use braces and a walker to walk some.”
“To date I’ve had 23 surgeries total, and I’m never giving up,” he said.
Stone said that he couldn’t have done any of it without the unending love and support of his family and friends.
“My family has been amazing. They have been with me every step of the way, always encouraging me. My friends too, my friends are like my family. Any time I ever get down or not wanting to work out or anything like that, they are there,” he said.
A year after my wreck, Stone said, “I went back to the east coast to visit a group of my friends. This was in Ocean City, Maryland.”
He was enjoying life with a few good friends when one turned to another and said, “It’s the same B, he hasn’t changed.”
“I think that really shows my spirit,” Stone said. “It might have changed me physically, but it didn’t change who I am at the core of my being. It didn’t change my soul.”
In the years since the accident, Stone finished his bachelors degree and pursued a masters in Counseling Psychology.
His passion for soccer is still strong.
“I’ve always loved soccer and I’ve always wanted to be involved in soccer.”
Stone’s dad is a pastor, and a mentor for the Rogers State University men’s and women’s soccer teams for the last six years.
“I’ve been going up there with him and watching the games over the years. I’d take pictures for the team, just for fun as a hobby.”
This season, the RSU men’s soccer coach invited Stone to come speak and work with the team, throughout the season on the mental aspect of the game — to be a mentor to the guys.
"Brandon has been hired to be an assistant coach on our team to help us with mental training,” said Head Coach Derek Larkin said. “He has a lot of knowledge in that area and has helped us tremendously in our mental toughness. We asked him to come and speak and tell us his story about how he overcame a tragic accident that prevented him from continuing to play soccer. He was given only a 5 percent chance to walk and he was walking around our soccer field and breaking records for the distance he could walk. If that's not inspiration, I don't know what is."
Stone’s relentlessness, his positive work ethic and attitude, that’s what the coaches hoped to instil in their team. And that’s what Stone delivered, last Wednesday on the practice field.
“I like to lead by example and practice what I preach, so after I gave a little talk to both the men’s and women’s teams, I then went out and broke my walking record on the field,” Stone said.
Before Wednesday, Stone’s record had been 850 feet.
At RSU, with 60 people, walking at his side, cheering him on, Stone reached 930 feet.
“It was truly amazing,” Stone said.
Thursday night the men’s soccer team won their first home game of the season, and the guys dedicated the 2-0 win to local inspiration Brandon Stone.
“It was one of the best moments of my life,” Stone said. “I’ll never forget it.”
“All the pain and suffering I had to go through, if I can use it for good to help these kids on the soccer team with their problems in life and on the field, it makes it all worth it.”
To the RSU soccer teams, Stone said, “You guys made me proud, and this is just the beginning. We’re all in this together.”
To the rest of us, Stone had some excellent advice. In addition to taking things one step at a time, not being afraid to reach out for help, and being grateful for what you already have, Stone said:
“Things outside of your control, you can’t let them dictate who you are. Whatever obstacles you have, you have the choice to either let them destroy you, or for them to be fuel to help you overcome.”