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Posted: May 7, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Unbreakable

Submitted photo/

Nearly seven months ago, Covington Police Detective Daniel Seals was flown to a hospital with injuries so severe that he couldn’t move his left leg. Last month he competed in an Eco Adventure, which involved several miles worth of strenuous activity. His is story of strength, goals and family, but mainly a story of faith.

On the afternoon of Oct. 29, Seals was a passenger in his Chevrolet Avalanche while his wife, who had delivered their son via Cesarean Section two weeks earlier, drove and their new baby rode in back. The family was on their way to drop Seals off at work after having just left a doctor’s appointment in Conyers.

As they approached the curve at Dogwood and Old Covington, Seals noticed a white car and then heard a screech. He looked up just in time to see dust flying at the back of the white car where the driver had left the roadway. She then hit them head-on, knocking their vehicle 35-feet off the road.

"I heard the baby crying and I knew that was good," said Seals. "I looked at my wife and could see that her ankle was broken. Then I looked through the glass and saw the lady’s car was on fire and was really burning. I took my seatbelt off and kicked open the door and when I got down on the running board I realized it was about a four-foot drop so I went to turn around and I couldn’t move my left leg."

Seals wasn’t feeling pain at the time and while he wasn’t able to check on his infant, he could see his son’s arms flailing and hear his cry. He told his wife that he was going to go get the woman who had hit them out of her car, but he couldn’t stand up. So instead he pulled himself up using the roof rack of the Avalanche and instructed the people who had gathered around them to pull her from the vehicle.

"I slumped back down in the seat and started talking to my wife and all of the sudden the pain came," he said. "I’ve never felt anything like that in my life."

The next moments remain slightly foggy. His wife and child were removed and transported to the hospital and he remembers hearing an air ambulance landing and then leaving while he remained in the car. A backboard was put inside the truck and he was strapped to it and placed in a neck brace and then put in an air ambulance.

"I was really struggling to stay conscious," he said. "I was in a lot of pain and I had IVs everywhere — and I hate needles — I remember the helicopter had a skylight in it and I was thinking how nice it was they put that in there for the patients.

"All of a sudden I realized this is bad," he said. "And I started praying, saying ‘I know you aren’t supposed to make deals, but if you will just take any pain or injury that they [his wife and son] may have and just pile it on, I’ll take it, just help my wife and new son to be OK.’"

When they landed Seals was immediately surrounded by people, some on the stretcher with him. When he arrived in triage, he heard his wife's voice. Seals had a CT scan and when they wheeled him out of there, the first people he saw were Sgt. Randy Downs from the Newton County Sheriff's Department and the leader of the Covington/Newton County SWAT Team, of which Seals is a member, and NCSO Deputy Kevin Watkins, his shield man in SWAT. The two refused to leave and took charge of his stretcher, wheeling him where he needed to go.

"There was just an outpouring of support," said Seals. "The sheriff and the chief... more food than we knew what to do with, it was overwhelming."

He had given his wife a new engagement ring for their 10-year anniversary and in the wreck the clasp had come undone and the diamond was missing. Newton County Coroner Tommy Davis went to the wrecker service where Seals' vehicle was and searched until he found the diamond, then presented it to Seals' wife on bended knee in the hospital. Fletcher's Jewelry on the square refused to take payment for re-setting the diamond.

"After everything died down that first day, the security guard came in my room and said, ‘You've had chiefs and sheriffs and Army generals in here today, who are you?' I told him I was an escaped felon," Seals said, laughing.
Seals was diagnosed with a separated sternum and a broken acetabulum - which is the support bone underneath the hip. Seals, his wife and 2-week-old and 7-year-old sons, moved in with his in-laws temporarily so they could help with the children. But as Seals was recuperating he began to notice that his left foot was starting to turn inward and eventually it was facing his right ankle. A trip back to the doctor confirmed that he would have to have surgery. And that what had started out as just a break now involved atrophied muscle and two-inches of bone separation.

The Monday after Thanksgiving Seals had a stainless steel plate and six screws put in to repair his hip. The doctor was forced to cut away a lot of muscle as well since much of it in the area had atrophied.

"He [the doctor] told me before the operation that if I thought I hurt before that what I felt after this [surgery] was going to be crazy," said Seals.

Afterward the doctor also presented Seals with a chart showing how quickly they expected him to heal from the operation. The estimate on walking again without the aid of crutches was a year.

"I told him we could go by that chart but he needed to get his pen out because he was going to have to change those dates."

Seals was unable to put weight on his left leg until January and even then he needed a cane for assistance. In March the CPD held a physical test, which is done twice a year and involves sit-ups, push-ups and a mile-and-a-half run. Seals set his sights on participating in that.

"I had to set those goals and my wife was setting them for herself. That helped," he said. "We also surrounded ourselves with people who were supportive."

In March Seals went back to the doctor and was able to relinquish his cane. And in April he (and his team Shake & Bake) participated in the Athens Eco Adventure which includes shooting with a bow and arrow, biking five miles, hiking four miles with around 40 pounds of weight strapped to his back, canoeing two miles and then running a mile and a half to the finish line. His team finished in two hours and 24 minutes.

"We finished strong and it didn't hurt and that was the ultimate goal for me at the time," said Seals, who added that his wife was there supporting him.

"The whole goal is to get back the way we were and not drag this baggage around forever. There's a lot of unforeseen things that happened that, in my personal opinion, can't be anything else but God, 'cause a lot of things could have gone wrong that didn't," said Seals.

"The lady that hit us crossed the center line, sure. She hit us, fine. I don't know why but I can't dwell on that forever," he said. "The point is, I can go home today and watch my 7-year-old play ball and take my 7-month-old to watch him play ball and have my wife with me.

Everything's still here. One thing you learn real quick, is when all the rest of this goes away, your family is still here."

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