Just 24 hours after 30-year-old Mike Droter had successfully proposed to his girlfriend of five years, Jordan Lovas, he suffered the worst day of his life. The Californian couple had been enjoying a romantic break in Hawaii, an early present for Lovas’ 25th birthday, when the businessman popped the question and she said yes. Life was sweet, but things were about to turn very sour.
It was August 28, 2016, and Lovas was packing up the couple’s things to get ready to return home to Citrus Heights in Sacramento, California, and to resume her working life as a trainer for a chain of waxing salons. Droter had gone down to the sea to squeeze in one last body surf before the end of their vacation at Sandy Beach on the southern shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Neither one knew that both their lives were about to change forever.
Lovas didn’t see anything of what happened next. The first moment she realized something was seriously wrong was when she heard screaming and yelling coming from the shore. But Lovas was blissfully unaware at this point that all of the commotion was because of her fiance.
The happy couple were similarly unaware that Sandy Beach has the dubious distinction of having two names. They knew the first well enough but they didn’t know the locals’ alternative, and more sinister, name for that part of the coast – “Broke Neck Beach.”
The unsuspecting Lovas was about to experience one of the worst things a partner can possibly go through. She watched from the beach as her boyfriend was dragged out of the water by lifeguards. It was already clear that Droter was in a very bad way.
Lovas remembers the horror vividly. She told Sacramento’s Fox 40 News, “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. He had absolutely no color in his body, no color in his fingertips, toes, his eyes were completely rolled back.” Droter appeared to be dead to bystanders on the beach.
Seeing her fiancé in such a sorry state, what Lovas did next was the wrong thing to do but totally understandable in the circumstances. She told People magazine, “It was absolutely terrible. You [could] tell that he was completely lifeless… it was literally a dead body on the beach. I was flailing all over him and they literally picked me up and threw me off of him.”
Droter was fighting for survival, and the Hawaiian lifeguards did not give up on him. The wiped-out body surfer was sped to The Queen’s Medical Center in nearby Honolulu by ambulance. But once there the diagnosis looked extremely bleak for the unfortunate young man.
According to the doctors in intensive care, Droter had sustained major spinal cord injuries. Specifically, he had fractured the crucial C1 disc near the top of the spine as well as another neck vertebrae. Medical staff said the damage was “the worst of the worst.” Trauma to the C1, which connects the head to the spine, is one of the most damaging spinal injuries a person can suffer.
As a result of his injuries, doctors explained that Droter would never walk again. Not only that but he would never regain any sensation from the neck down. As a result, they informed Lovas that her new fiance would be unable to even breathe for himself and would need to be permanently rigged up to a ventilator.
Droter had survived his brush with death, but his devastating injuries meant that life from now on would be radically different. Although he was awake and aware of his surroundings, the previously vibrant and strong young man wasn’t able to talk above a quiet whisper.
This was how the stricken Droter was able to explain what had happened to him in the waves at Sandy Beach. Essentially, the body surfer had been blind-sided by a huge wave which hit him with so much power that he was flipped over. He had been forced upside down and cracked his skull on the floor of the ocean, breaking his neck and leaving him drowning.
Droter was instantly aware of the grave nature of the accident. He told People, “I immediately knew I was paralyzed… I remember trying to swim out of the ocean and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t swim. I couldn’t do anything.”
Due to the severe extent of his injuries, moving Droter safely from the hospital in Honolulu back home to California was going to be a very expensive process. His family and friends came to Hawaii to offer support by his bedside for the next few weeks. It took almost a month to raise the necessary funds to transfer him to San Jose’s Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
The great expense was due to the fact that relocating Droter from Hawaii would require a plane with special medical equipment installed. For this reason, the paralyzed patient’s friends and family set up an online crowdfunding appeal in an attempt to raise the $50,000 needed to pay for his transfer, rehab and physical therapy. Droter made it back to California on September 22, 2016.
Medical experts didn’t hold out much hope that Droter would ever be able to live a normal life. So his great progress in physical therapy came as a wonderful surprise. As the weeks went by Droter managed to speak, drink water unassisted again and even move one of his thumbs.
Despite his injuries, Droter was feeling positive about getting stronger. However, returning home to Citrus Heights on November 22 brought new challenges, including with his own household pet. He told People, “I had a dog that I loved who I had for 10 years and he didn’t even look at me the same… I wasn’t able to pet him… he neglected me for about three weeks.”
But the determined Droter hasn’t let such adversities hinder him in his fight for recovery. He now puts all his energy into special physical training with spinal cord injury rehabilitation specialists. Consequently, he has made radical advances and has regained feeling down his left side. He can also partially move his arms and legs in order to carry out assisted exercises. “A lot of things are coming back,” he said to People. “They actually have hope I’ll walk again.”
The steadfast Lovas has helped Droter every step of the way despite the huge challenges. Speaking in May 2017 he said, “We stay strong for the simple stuff, honestly… I got to hold her hands for the first time about two months ago… we both cried and then we videotaped it… it was an amazing moment.”
Droter’s recovery will come in stages and he is currently being driven by one simple desire – to stand next to his beloved Lovas as they get married. The couple have set a date for March 23, 2018, and Droter is firmly resolved to achieve his goal. He said, “I might be able to stand next to her at my wedding. That’s what keeps us going.”