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The Impact of Surviving a 180-foot Fall from a Cliff

“I dreamed that David fell at the gorge,” remembers Catherine Scheller. “He was falling and falling and falling. It was so realistic and it scared me. It really scared me.”

Dave and John Scheller were looking forward to a weekend hiking trip to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. They went ahead with their plans despite their mother Catherine’s frightening and ominous dream.

John says, “I finally got permission to go hang out with my idol. For the first time I was let out to really spend a night with my brother, so I was excited.”

The two brothers set out on an intense two-mile hike into the gorge, excited to spend time together and get drunk. Dave, who was older, had been there several times before. He led them to a secluded campsite in a cave where they could make a fire and party. Outside the cave entrance was a one hundred and eighty foot cliff.

“We were up all night,” says John. “We were having an incredibly good time. There were no consequences that we could see to any of our actions. We just felt free and having a great time.” 

But when John woke up the next morning his older brother was nowhere to be seen.

“Man that’s just weird,” thought John. “That’s just weird that he would just disappear so I thought, ‘I’m just going to go walk around. I’m just going to go look for him.’ There was this sound. It sounded like a wounded animal, like a groaning. So I just assumed like us, that it was another camper waking up from an all-nighter. I started running down the trail and still (there was) no sign of David. I heard that groaning again. And when I heard it I thought, ‘that could be Dave.’ And so I just started straight across through the brush and it was very, very thick, so I’m cutting through the undergrowth.
                       
In the middle of the night Dave had fallen from the cliff. For hours his body lay wedged beneath a fallen tree near the base of the gorge.
           
“His eyes were just completely glazed over,” says John. “And I remember he was grabbing onto the branches around him as if he were still falling and still trying to catch himself. So I just got behind him and bear hugged him so his back was against my chest and just held him.”
           
Park rangers and other hikers heard the cries for help and carried Dave to an ambulance. Then he was life-flighted to a trauma center. Catherine and her husband Stu raced to the hospital where they prepared for the worst.
“There on this gurney, on a respirator is my child,” says Catherine. “And a tear came down out of his cheek and he held my hand and then he disappeared. He disappeared for quite some time.”

For the next several days he came in and out of a coma. His brain was swelling, and he had a stroke that caused paralysis on his left side. Family and friends desperately prayed for his survival.
           
“I held my hands over David the entire time,” says Catherine, “every minute I was there either holding his hand or over him asking for healing. ‘Just please let me have another chance. Give him back to me. I’ll take him any way I can. If he’s in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, if that’s what it takes, I’m willing to do that. Give him to me anyway You will.’”
           
Over the next several days Dave’s body and mind started healing rapidly. At one point, he had a glimpse of a heavenly presence in the room.
 
Catherine says, “He opens up his eyes and says, ‘Who’s the Man in the corner?’ And I said, ‘I don’t see anyone in the corner.’ He says, ‘He knows you mom, He knows you. And He was there with me in the canyon when I fell. He was there with me and He wants you to know He’s there in the corner.’”

Dave’s recovery progressed, despite some setbacks. He began to recover from the physical trauma of the fall, but there was an emotional toll on his family as well.
           
Dave remembers what it was like at that time, “My whole life as I knew as a 21-year-old man on top of the world was just completely taken away.”

Catherine says, “He had to learn how to use the bathroom again (and) how to eat again. He slowly got stronger and stronger, but he was very unpredictable with anger and rages.”

Dave says, “I was in a very dark, angry place.” 
           
“We thought we were going to lose him to drugs, to alcohol, in a car crash. We didn’t know,” says Catherine. “But we were afraid. How could all these miracles have happened for us to lose him?”
           
His parents enrolled Dave in “Outward Bound” with the hopes that he would find peace. They also sent him a small book about the love of God.

Dave says the book helped him, “It said He’s your father. He wants you to call Him father. When you do something silly doesn’t your father forgive you? I started praying and God started working on my heart. It was like this weight was just lifted. I stopped being mad at everybody. I stopped being mad at myself and I had clearly forgiven everyone.”
Since that day he truly has a new life—both physically and spiritually.
           
“I didn’t have to go out and get wasted with my friends and be wild and do risky things to prove my manhood,” says Dave. “I didn’t have to do anything like that. I was going to be a good father. I was going to be a good husband. I was going to have faith and tithe to a church and it filled that void that I was searching for.”

The Schellers reflect on their time in the valley, thankful that God used this tragedy to bring healing to every part of their family.
           
“God healed me fully,” says Dave. “I’m physically and emotionally and mentally in a better place than I’ve ever been in my life.”

Dave’s brother John also sees God’s hand in their lives now, “I can always look back and see that God is constantly with us, even through the worst of times. Had this event not happened, none of us would have the positive relationships with God that we have now.”

Catherine says, “There’s healing on the other side and there’s great understanding that comes from tragedy and pain. It changed our family in every way it possibly could have changed it. It’s probably the best thing that ever could have happened to any of us. God took something that was awful and turned it into good.”

“I’m just watching the world change in front of me,” says Dave. “As soon as I became a follower of Christ it’s like the void was filled. It was just an amazing experience that changed my life.”

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