"I feel great" is a simple phrase, but for Demarcus Tinsley, a Dodge City Community College sophomore, saying that — or saying anything ever again — was in serious doubt.
Scars on the right side of his face bear testimony to the violent crash in April that almost took his life.
Now Tinsley is back, and he wants to tell everyone he is doing great. He has become an inspiration to others. People hit him up and say, "I'm so proud of you, you motivate me," Tinsley said.
Tinsley, an offensive guard and tackle on the Conquistadors football team, had just returned to DCCC from a visit to Grambling State University in Grambling, Ga., where he is going to play football. He was driving on campus when he fell asleep and drove his car into the hitch of a parked gooseneck trailer.
The force of the impact tore the top off the car and hit Tinsley in the right side of his face, said J.D. Gilbert, who is an adjunct teacher and teaches a marketing class in which Tinsley was a student.
Tinsley said was able to get out of his car and called 911 himself. He said he wasn't in pain and wasn't aware how badly he was injured until he saw his reflection. He was walking around the crash site when first responders arrived.
Dodge City Fire Chief Rob Boyd said Tinsley had an open skull fracture, problems with his airway and lots of blood loss.
"When I saw the injury, I didn't think he would survive. The injuries were graphic and extreme," Boyd said. "I didn't think we'd ever see him again."
Tinsley was taken to Dodge City Regional Medical Center, then transported by helicopter to Wesley Medical Center. Tinsley said he was placed in a drug-induced coma for two weeks and spent a total of four weeks in the hospital. He lost his right eye and suffered damage to his face around his eye socket, nose and jaw. He has had one reconstructive surgery and another is planned for Oct. 17. Two CT scans revealed there was no bleeding on the brain.
What has happened since the crash is nothing short of miraculous.
Tinsley returned to the DCCC campus in August and with the help of a couple of staff members, he made contact with his teachers and made arrangements to finish all his semester courses. Beverly Temaat, vice president of student affairs, and campus counselor Bennie Wiley-Bethea were instrumental in helping Tinsley make contact with his teachers so he could finish his spring semester.
"They helped me out a lot," Tinsley said. "She (Wiley-Betha) said I'm her baby and she's proud of me."
Recently, Gilbert arranged for Tinsley to meet the paramedics who helped him on the day of the crash. He didn't tell Boyd why he was coming but said they would enjoy it.
It isn't often that a survivor of a serious crash is able to walk in and talk to the first responders who also have to deal emotionally when someone is critically injured. The chief and other firefighters recognized him immediately and were overwhelmed. There were handshakes, hugs, tears, lots of laughter and talk about a bright future.
"When he walked in with the student, I was flabbergasted that he was doing so well. We didn't think he would ever be here. The crews were extremely surprised that they actually able to see him after he was so critically injured and be able to come and offer thanks and gratitude. We just don't get that very much," Boyd said. "It just amazed us because his injuries were so extremely graphic and severe. To be able to recover and resume activity is pretty amazing."
The crew that was on duty the day of the crash was not on duty at the first visit, so they made arrangements to come back when they were on duty.
"This has been a great testament to the human will and the life responders live after going through a crisis with someone. It's a shared experience and not many people get positive closure," Gilbert said.
Tinsley said the paramedics told him this was one of the worst calls they had. He said he appreciated them and they were a blessing.
"I just wanted to say thank you for everything," Tinsley said. "I was blessed to see them. I just want to say thank you to everyone who's been there for me."
The journey back has not been an easy one. When he got out of the hospital, he blamed himself for the crash. He cried almost every day and wondered why this happened to him.
But he said God blessed him and he resolved to not worry about his appearance and to keep going.
"I don't worry about how I look," Tinsley said. "I just had to pray about it every day. I had to pray and get over it."
It was hard for him to watch the football team practice because he loves the game. It's been a challenge working on football drills. He is back in a training regiment on his own and learning how to turn his head to compensate for the loss of his right eye. He admits he is in better shape now that he works on his own.
"I work out on my own and I work with Coach Vincent (Reiss). He helps me a lot," Tinsley said.
Although Tinsley has been accepted at Grambling, he still continues to get offers from other universities.
Tinsley is determined to continue playing football, first at Grambling and then in the NFL.
Looking beyond that, Tinsley, a business management major, wants to own his own business one day. He was inspired by his grandfather, who owned a business.
Tinsley is upbeat and optimistic and believes he is going to reach all his goals, but he said he knows he still has work to do.
"I have to work hard, both on and off the field," Tinsley said. "I want to be successful."