Remarkable recovery for Omaha man with broken neck

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- An Omaha man slept in his own bed Saturday night for the first time in three months. By all accounts, he’s made a remarkable recovery from when a wave broke his neck in Mexico and nearly ended his life.

“This is my chair. It’s comfortable,” said John Abkes, as he walked into his northwest Omaha living room Saturday. “This has been my chair for as many years as I can remember. I was really looking forward to it. Being home and sitting in this chair.”

Since late December, the hospital has been John Abkes’ home.

“Once this comes off, I’ll be a free man,” he said, as he pointed to the neck brace he’s required to wear.

WOWT 6 News last saw him at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln in early February. He was trying to learn to use his muscles again. And walking didn’t come naturally.

John: “Last time we saw each other, I was on that board trying to rock it back and forth. And could barely do it.”
Reporter: “You said it would be the death of you?”
John: “Pretty much. I had other names for the board. Ha. At one point when we met I scored a 30 on a test that goes to 56. Two weeks ago, I scored a 54 out of 56, because my ankles came back. It’s an amazing thing. So once my ankles came back, my balance became incredible.”

John Abkes had been through death and life again.

In late December in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a big wave slammed him face first into the beach. He was body surfing. His daughter gave him CPR.

“My head hit the bottom of the ocean twice. I died. My lungs filled with sea water and sand. And my neck was broke - but absolutely no brain damage. I’m coming back completely clean and now I have a test to prove it. Many people say they are smart, but i have a test to prove. I have documentation. Ha. Ha.”

John Abkes is home before many expected.

His family – who pulled him from the waters of the Pacific Ocean – stood by him at rehab, cheering him on.

“We just tore into therapy,” he said. “We made every appointment. We worked at nights and on the weekends. I worked hard to make sure we got to this point. They were surprised to see me going out too. I was probably a month ahead of schedule. And I left on Madonna’s terms. I met every goal.”

He’s quick to point out that there’s no lasting brain injury, either. “Another miracle in a series of miracles. One of the therapists there took my family aside and asked them, ‘We need to know. Is this your dad? Is this the same guy coming back?’ My son said, ‘Yes. Unfortunately so.’ That was a good joke.”

It’s appropriate – he says – knowing that his family who was there to rescue him – threw him the weekend homecoming. “God’s using us. I just want to see it continue.”

In late March, John Abkes will share his journey to recovery and the miracles he saw along the way with his fellow church-goers at Westside Church at 150th and Dodge.

For now, he’s going to take a week off and relax. And then get back to therapy at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals Omaha campus as an outpatient.