The Attack

On the evening of June 23rd, 2005, my family and I were taking a walk on the west side of Little Falls, Minnesota. I remember having a Mestrange anxiety that night and didn’t know why, but little did I know it would affect my family and I for the rest of our lives. I had a pretty normal life as a kid for being 10 years old, nothing unexpected happened very often. I thought this would be a normal night for my family and I but things can easily change from having a great and normal life to a complete travesty in a matter of seconds.

My family and I were going for a walk in the west side of town and decided to go and see if my dad’s boss Chuck was at his apartment. He had recently bought an older apartment building so that he could fix it up.  We waited outside the large white building, but nobody answered, so we decided to go to Chuck’s dealership to see if he was there instead. This was where Chuck kept over a dozen tigers and lions as well as a bear for pets. I was always scared to go there and I especially didn’t like my dad having to work there everyday. After arriving, Chuck wanted to show us an owl that he had recently acquired. This owl was kept in the same room that the lion (Leo) and tiger (Georgette)’s cage was kept.

My Point of View

While my dad and Chuck were talking, I wandered out of the room to search for my mom and brother Steve.  My dad signaled me back towards the room because he didn’t want me to go off on my own. When I walked back into the room, that’s when I noticed Chuck holding a hair-brush in one hand and his other hand on the small latch for one of the black cages. I thought to myself, “he better not be opening that thing” and sure enough. Chuck opened the latch to the cage where the fully grown lion and tiger were together. Even before he could open the door the tiger shoved the door open and I saw it coming right at me.

Hearing nothing but shouting, I remember turning away from the tiger and putting my hand out behind me to shield myself from the charging animal. The next thing I remember after that was being on my hands and knees, looking at the floor and seeing nothing but blood rapidly dripping down. At this point, the lion came out of the cage too and grabbed me by the neck then I blacked out again. I woke up to having my face and limp body being dragged several feet across the cold cement floor by the lion. As he was dragging me, I could hear and feel him breathing on me. My ears felt like they were literally on fire and my hearing was muffled along with a high pitched ringing. When I opened my eyes, it was like as if I was looking through a red stained-glass window. I remember screaming in my head, “God, please take me now, please don’t make this last any longer!”  Blackness again. I either passed out from my spinal cord being severed or from lack of oxygen. I was unable to breathe or say/scream anything throughout the attack.

After a while, I could hear a guy asking someone if they wanted a ride and for me to stop biting my lip. Then I heard the sound of being inside a helicopter and seeing a blinding white light when I tried opening my eyes. My body felt tingly and like I was tightly wrapped in warm damp sheets. A guy said “he’s awake!” but after that, everything went dark and silent again. The few times I was conscious, I kept thinking “what the F is going on and why can’t I stay awake, say or do anything??”. It was scary and like an Eli Roth horror movie.

I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in the hospital 16 hours later. The first thing I saw was a nurse standing there and I asked her if my dad was ok since he and Chuck were in the same room as I was during the attack trying to get them off of me. I fell back asleep and woke up a short while afterwards to seeing my mom, dad and brother standing along the sides of the hospital bed. Again I asked my dad if he was okay, and he said he only had a sore wrist from trying to get the cats off of me. It was about a month later I found out the story of how I got to the hospital.

My Family’s Point of View

My dad said “As soon as Georgette got a hold of you, I was trying to pull her off. Then yelled at Chuck to help. He instantly picked her up off of you and put her in the cage. That same fn moment Leo got out and moved you.”

I was told while my mom and Steve were calling 9-1-1, my dad and Chuck were rushing me out the door and into the car to go to the hospital. My dad was driving our white 1998 Monte Carlo at over 120mph on highway 10 and Haven road as Chuck held me the whole 3.5 mile trip there.  The attack lasted approximately 5 minutes plus a 6 minute drive.

Upon arriving at St. Gabriel’s hospital, my dad and Chuck were confronted by an older man (who obviously had no medical experience) insisted that I be put in a wheelchair. Now, we all know not to move somebody if they potentially have a neck injury,  it’s common sense.. I was lying down in the car and being stabilized the entire time. Putting me in a wheelchair with little to no head/neck support is one of the worst things that could have been done. Makes me wonder if that contributed to the severity of my paralysis.

Brain damage begins around 3 to 6 minutes without oxygen. It’s an absolute miracle I didn’t receive any from being oxygen deprived for about 12 minutes total (that’s including getting me in the car and into the hospital). I was airlifted from the Little Falls hospital to the St. Cloud Hospital, where I was for a few minutes before I was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in Minneapolis. I was later transferred to Gillette/Region’s hospital for rehabilitation.

Ambulances are useless in this situation. The driver only caused unwanted hindrance when my dad went back to pick my mom and brother up and bring them to the hospital. He even had the audacity to say “don’t hit my ambulance on your way out, I’ll have you arrested” to my dad like a little snob. The police weren’t helping either.

List of Injuries

My hospital stay was about four months total. After spending a few weeks at HCMC, I was transferred to Gillette Children’s Hospital in early July. I spent the remainder of the four months there recovering from all of my injuries. The most horrible injury I suffered was a fracture of my spine at C1 and C2, which is right below the base of my skull. That’s what left me a quadriplegic (paralyzed from the neck down) and having to be ventilator dependent. From the force of being thrown against the cement floor, I had multiple fractures of my orbit (the bone surrounding my eye), a fractured jaw bone on the right side, severe lacerations on my face, neck and chest. My carotid artery had been torn apart, which carries the main blood supply to my brain. This then resulted in a right middle cerebral artery infarction (a stroke). Also from the impact of my head hitting the floor, I endured a subdural hematoma (brain bleed), a tear in the lining of each of my lungs and finally, the last of my injury list was pneumopericardium, where air entered the inside lining of my heart and caused it to fill with fluid.

Relationship With Chuck

Chuck was very helpful throughout the entire ordeal. He and his wife at the time brought my brother to Minneapolis and back to our house to get clothes and other items. He bought food for him, was very supportive and willing to help us in any way he could including cleaning up the interior of our car. Even though that was the case, I still didn’t want to see or talk to him after what happened.

Two years went by without us interacting. One day as we were driving by his place (which was often since it was right off highway 10) I noticed he had 2 of my favorite cars in his lot and I wanted to see what was up with them. One was an 84 Buick Regal and the other was an 86. I called him and he was surprised to hear from me. After a few days, he ended up giving me the cars and delivered them. That’s when our bond returned and we started talking on a regular basis again. That has now been demolished because of him backing out on a car deal we had and made his son tell me. It was just a huge waste of gas, money and time driving to his place.

Working on the Cars

My dad started working on the 2 cars and we eventually sold them. He put an Olds 455 motor in the maroon 86 Regal which we named the “O Type” Regal (because of it having an Oldsmobile motor in it) which was based off the “T Type” Regals that were made in the 80′s. The black 83 Regal had a Chevy 305 put in with a more aggressive cam and quadrajet 4 barrel carb installed on it. You can see those cars in my photo gallery section of this site. My all time dream car is an 87 Buick GNX and I hope to get one someday.

My Handicap Accessible Vehicles

Since I’m not able to drive a normal car, I have to have handicap accessible ones. The first one I got was a 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan Sport. It was a typical boring minivan until I had an upgraded exhaust and stereo system installed including a 15″ subwoofer. In 2011, I sold that van and bought a 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT. This one came with racing stripes and custom hood scoops. I still thought it was boring so I had the stereo system upgraded as well but with 2 12″ subs this time. I also had a new muffler installed along with a cold air intake to help with performance and gas mileage. It is now for sale. Between 2011 and 2014 I purchased a 1998 Ford E-150 to tow my car trailer with and also a junk 1993 Plymouth Voyager that I plan on putting a turbocharged SRT-4 motor and transmission in. The Ford is for sale too. Now I have a 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 which I bought in March 2014. I have a ton of upgrades in the making for it. There’s pictures of each of these vehicles in the photo gallery and also a video of the GMC in the video section if you’d like to check them out.

Life Changes

After recovering from all of my injuries, I have a new way of living that I’m still trying to get used to at times. This new way of life is very difficult and sometimes I absolutely hate it with a passion. It has a couple of “good” aspects to it but only because I made it that way. I have had to adjust to not being able to walk or breathe on my own ever again as well as losing my independence and every single bit of privacy. Still being able to speak, eat and think normally, I hold onto parts of my previous life. Now at age 19, I’m looking into a career in marketing since I enjoy the finding, buying and selling aspect of a small car flipping business my dad and I have for a hobby.

Even though I do not like how things turned out at all, my life has changed dramatically and I have to manage to adapt. There’s so many things I wasn’t able to try before getting hurt and now probably never will unless I invent special devices on my own. But there’s no way I have the skills nor can I afford that. I have some ideas I’ll show in the future. So if I could get some links to quadriplegic friendly driving related devices I’d really appreciate it.

On a Positive Note

Try not to take everything for granted and live life to the fullest whenever you can. It literally only takes a couple seconds to have your life change dramatically or even lose it. Keep your head up and don’t let people or other things get in the way of your life long dreams. We all are capable of getting what we want if we focus and work for it. Remember that if you’re ever having a bad or depressing day.

 

Take care,

Russell Lala