A long-distance runner who was told he might never walk again is in training for a 13-mile race, along with the surgeon who delivered the bad news, then rebuilt his shattered spine.
Dean Otto met Dr. Matt McGirt last September in the emergency room of Carolinas HealthCare Systems in Charlotte, N.C., after he was knocked from his bike.
Otto had a broken back, a broken pelvis, a broken tailbone, a broken leg and several broken ribs.
“His spine was torn apart,” McGirt told InsideEdition.com Wednesday. “His injuries were catastrophic.”
Still conscious, Otto looked up at the neurosurgeon and challenged him to a race. “I’ll run a half marathon with you and I’ll whip ya,” he said.
Next month, Otto and McGirt will run side-by-side in Northern California’s Napa Half Marathon.
Not bad for a middle-aged man whose ravaged back was literally in pieces.
Before his accident, Otto, now 52, completed the 2015 New York Marathon and exercised like a professional athlete.
But on a misty Saturday morning, he was thrown to the pavement while riding his bike. His bicycle became a twisted wreck, and he couldn’t feel his legs.
A car had slammed into him, driven by a young man who never saw Otto because his windshield had steamed up.
“I pretty much forgave him on the stop,” he told InsideEdition.com. “I knew resentment would eat me alive. I’ve never had problems putting things in God’s hands.”
The driver was beside himself after the accident, Otto said, and came to see him in the hospital. They have become friends, Otto said. “He’s a good kid.”
After surgery – during which McGirt placed two titanium rods in Otto’s back and reconfigured his spine – the patient vowed he would do whatever it took to walk again.
“He asked me the critical question: Can you move your toes?” Otto said, recounting McGirt’s query to him in post-op.
Otto discovered he could.
From then on, his recovery was a long slog of baby steps.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It hurt like s**t. My hair hurt. Everything hurt. It was so hard to do. I had to concentrate so hard to get anything to move.
“All the things you take for granted, like being able to walk or go to the bathroom … I didn’t pee for a month.”
But the software salesman kept going. After a few months, he was walking. Then he was running. Then he was back on the bike.
“His story is really inspiring,” McGirt said. “I’ve seen really bad things happen to really good people. That’s why it’s so great to see something like this happen to Dean.”
The two have become close friends, and have their own mutual admiration society.
“He pays it forward,” the physician said. “My staff loves him. People who just met him love him. He brightens everyone’s perspective.”
Otto laughed when told of the surgeon’s accolades. “He’s lying,” Otto said. “He’s good people.”
McGirt wasn’t much of a runner when he accepted Otto’s challenge, but he has been gearing up for next month's big race.
“I just ran nine miles this morning and it almost killed me,” the doctor said.
Otto is at the same mile-mark. He has no back pain, he says, and his recovery is complete. He has established a website to collect donations to help others who suffered spinal cord injuries.
“Everything I had before, I can do now. I just don’t run as fast,” he said. “But I’m not going to the Olympics.”
McGirt says he wants his former patient to outrun him next month.
“I hope he does. That would make me so happy.”
No matter what happens, “we’ll cross the finish line together,” he said.