Georgia man who survived plane crash on Tom Cruise movie 'doing well'

Plane crash survivor

- Jimmy Garland is doing something he hasn't done for months. He’s standing up.

"That is an awesome experience,” says Garland.

The Cherokee County native is on the Lokomat machine at Shepherd Center.

Held upright by a harness over a computerized treadmill, guided by his therapy team, Garland is walking, trying to get his paralyzed leg muscles to remember.

"When you're paralyzed like this, you forget everything," he says.

Even though machine is controlling his gait and propelling him forward, this feels like a huge step.

"It felt very exhilarating to see things moving, to be in a walking motion again,” Garland says.

It's been almost six months since a plane crash in mountains of Colombia nearly ended Garland's life.

"By the Grace of God I am still sitting here,” he says.

Garland, was working as a stunt pilot on the Tom Cruise movie Mena,  September 11, 2015.

"I don't remember anything the day of the accident," he says.

It was the second-to-the-last day of shooting.

Garland had volunteered to fly out to the set that day, taking the place of another mechanic.  Flying home to Medellin, the twin-engine plane carrying Garland and two others crashed into a pasture at the top of a mountain, killing the pilot and another passenger.

Garland was critically injured.  He had shattered his T-12 vertebra, broken both ankles, suffered severe cuts on his lower legs, fractured 4 ribs and had a collapsed lung.  He had also suffered a brain injury.

Heavily sedated, Garland was stabilized at a Colombian hospital and then airlifted back to Georgia.

"The first recollection I have is waking up at Grady, with them taking me off the breathing machine in Atlanta,” he says.

At Grady Memorial Hospital, Garland's wife and son broke the news.  He’d suffered a spinal cord injuries and was paralyzed, his friends did not survive.

"It didn't seem real at the time,” Garland remembers.

Days later, he was transferred to Shepherd Center.

"I was broken up pretty badly in the accident,” he says.

Still in intense pain, Garland began therapy, relearning the most basic tasks: sitting up, moving from his bed to a wheelchair, feeding himself.

"Then, they start training you to cope with your new condition,” he says. “How to live in a wheelchair."

For now, he'll settle for walking on the Lokomat.  But, one day, he says, he'll do it on his own.

"Nothing was severed in the spinal cord, it was all impacted, bruising,” he says.

"I'm very ambitious, I'm very hard-headed, as my wife would say,” he says. “Very determined. I will walk."

Garland recently returning to work as co-owner of S & S Aviation at the Cherokee County Airport.

He splits his days between overseeing a fleet of mechanics and small airplanes and being at Shepherd Center.

His sole focus, he says, is getting better.

"That's where my heart is, and I don't dwell on what happened,” Garland says.

Instead, Jimmy Garland feels lucky for everything he still has: his family, his friends, this hospital that has helped him find both healing and hope.

"It's amazing how many friends I've had and how everyone has wanted to help,” he says. “It's been a huge blessing."

Garland says he’s grateful to Shepherd Center for helping build a life after the plane crash.  He says he got a call from Tom Cruise just before Christmas, checking in with him to see how he’s doing.  Garland is looking forward to seeing the movie when Mena is released in 2017.


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