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Greg Abbott overcame paralysis to become governor

Updated on September 1, 2017

Greg Abbott overcame injury to become governor and fight Hurricane Harvey

Texas Governor Greg Abbott shown at work.  This week he rallied Texans to fight back after devastating Hurricane Harvey struck.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott shown at work. This week he rallied Texans to fight back after devastating Hurricane Harvey struck.

Greg Abbott jogging when falling tree broke his back

Future Texas Governor Greg Abbott had no idea he would face death and paralysis when he started out on his jog at only twenty-six years of age. Always athletic during his youth, he had no reason to expect anything unusual when he started out on his run through a Houston neighborhood. Recently graduated from law school, he had a bright feature with no real obstacles until a huge oak tree crashed down on his back, fracturing verterbrae into his spinal cord, leaving him forever paralyzed. Fortunately for Houstonians, he came back to help Texans overcome Hurricane Harvey this week.

He could have quite literally died that momentous day in Texas, but he soon realized that "our lives are not defined by our challenges, but by how we respond to them," according to his recent book Broken But Unbowed. In the dedication to this inspirational book, the Texas governor dedicated the autobiography to the three women he said inspired him to overcome life's challenges including his mother, his wife Cecilia and daughter Audrey.

Abbott tells the story of how he overcame his paralyzing injury to not only survive, but also to be a successful lawyer, judge, attorney general and now governor in this riveting book. Newly-married to Cecilia, the Wichita Falls, Texas native discloses how they packed their bags in Nashville after he graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School and moved to Houston. He had already been hired by a prestigious law firm in downtown Houston called Butler and Binion. This was the job he and Cecilia had dreamed of as a young couple when he had begun three years of intensive study in law school.

He recounts in his book that, "The future we had dreamed of was on the brink of becoming a reality."

The event that would irrevocably change the course of this happy young couple's lives occurred on July 14, 1984. Abbott recounts how he spent the morning studying for the Texas bar exam with close friend Fred Frost before they decided to take a break and go jogging. He had kissed his wife Cecilia goodbye as she went off to work that morning.

The current governor of the Lone Star State recounts in detail how on that fateful afternoon he almost died on the streets of Houston. He said in his book, "A few minutes later we were running on well-kept sidewalks that sliced through manicured lawns of an upscale neighborhood, west of downtown Houston." He further writes, "The first shock was the sound--a loud explosion that sounded like a bomb had exploded about ten feet away."

The governor then remembered that, "Reflexively, I turned my head to the right, where the sound originated. It was a tree. A big oak, well over fifty feet tall, with a trunk two or three feet wide--and an enormous crack at the base."


Abbott saw 50-foot oak fall toward him

The young law school graduate said a myriad of thoughts coalesced in his brain during the split second between the time he saw the huge oak falling and the time it broke his back. Abbott relates in this absorbing book that, "Think of the sense of panic you feel when you perceive imminent danger. That sudden sinking feeling in your stomach when your heart abruptly stops, then races rapidly. That moment of fright that makes your hair stand on end. Then multiply it times a hundred. That's what I felt."

The most traumatic event of the future lawmaker's life lasted less than a second, according to his recollection in the inspiring book. The next thing that he remembered was he was flat on his back. He remembers that, "The good news was that I was still conscious. The bad news was that I had not lost consciousness. The pain was immediate, excruciating, and unrelenting."

Abbott then recalls he went through shock in the seconds following the fall of the fifty-foot oak onto his back. He remembers his friend Fred who was running behind him at the time, His buddy took on look at him and said he would run to a house and call for an ambulance. Unfortunately, these were the days before cell phones even existed.



Reality check after accident

Abbott remembers the shock he experienced when a physician at the hospital first told him, "You'll never walk again, Greg." Being the fighter he was, Greg recalls he was upset and at first refused to accept the new reality facing him. Several times he asked the doctors if they were sure, and every time they replied they were positive he'd never walk again.

One of the new realities of his life was that " a life once filled with confidence was now suddenly riddled with self-doubt," he recounted in his book. The reality check he had to face was at twenty-six years of age, he was in a body cast and facing an uncertain future. He wondered how he would take care of himself. The future governor also was concerned about Cecilia. How would she cope? Could they have the children they dreamed about? Could he take care of the family financially? Could he even work?

The man who would someday successfully argue cases in front of the United States Supreme Court, experienced doubts as to whether he would even live during his difficult and painful navigation in the ICU. He recalls that, "I was now living minute to minute. All that mattered was that I survive one more minute." Ironically, if he were to have the same accident today in 2016, he probably would've been out of the hospital and into physical rehabilitation in ten days."

Overcoming a devastating injury which would've killed many less determined people, Abbot climbed from his hospital bed and went on to become a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, Texas attorney general and now governor of Texas. He and wife Cecilia have now been married for thirty-four years. Together they have overcome that one fateful second in Houston that would've destroyed lesser people. She is a former schoolteacher and principal and the first Hispanic First Lady of Texas. Daughter Audrey attends college.

This book is one of the most inspiring I've ever had the pleasure to read. Abbott's climb from the doorstep of death to the highest office in the state of Texas will be an inspiration to anyone who is facing what they believe might be insurmountable obstacles in their lives.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott , wife Cecilia, and daughter Audrey with family dog.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott , wife Cecilia, and daughter Audrey with family dog. | Source

Cecilia Abbott responds to husband's injury

Cecilia was at work when the tree crashed down on her husband. She noticed an afternoon storm and heard the sound of a lightning bolt a few blocks away. She first had an inkling something was wrong when Fred appeared at her place of work and asked about Greg's insurance. When she asked their friend where her husband was, Fred replied, "Greg went ahead to Twelve Oaks Hospital. He wasn't sure about the insurance or something like that."

Puzzled, Cecilia followed Fred to the hospital in the Abbott's car. Concern and fear mixed in her mind as she drove to the hospital, still not knowing what her husband's fate was. She thought of the worse. "Greg's not okay, is he Fred?" she asked as they walked through the hallways of the hospital. Fred replied, "I need you to be strong, Cecilia. Just be strong. I'm here for you."

Cecilia remembers being overjoyed with relief when she entered the emergency room and saw Greg was alive.

Greg Abbott and wife triumph over adversity

Governor Abbott and his wife
Governor Abbott and his wife | Source

Abbott's Dramatic Return To Houston For Hurricane Harvey

Governor Abbott returned to the area of the biggest adversity of his life this week when he led Texans to recovery from Hurricane Harvey and the historic flood which devastated Houston. It was in Houston he was tragically paralyzed by a falling tree while studying for his Texas bar exam. A lesser person would not have rebounded from this life-changing injury to lead his state from the governor's mansion. This week he proved once again his incredible comeback abilities by leading the recovery from Hurricane Harvey which drenched the city with more than 52 inches of rain. The people of the Lone Star State have once again benefitted from Abbott's extraordinary resilience.

He showed the same strength in saving the lives of Texans as he did overcoming his own injuries. Teaming up with President Donald Trump, he helped organized the comeback from the deadly hurricane. Abbott and Trump also proved the state and federal governments can work well together.

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