JASPER, Tenn. - Although the last effect of a punctured lung is a dull pain each time he inhales and exhales, Sam Montgomery is thankful for each new breath he takes.
"I was an alpha-male football coach, but now most of my day consists of medicine, taking a shower, rehabbing and just sitting on the front porch talking to friends and seeing my boys in the evening," said Montgomery, who has coached at Central, Boyd-Buchanan, Whitwell and Marion County since 2000. "This has made me a better man and made my walk with God better."
Just four days after resigning as Central's head football coach to spend more time with his three sons, Montgomery was showing some livestock to a potential buyer when the mule he was riding became spooked and began to run. The reins broke off in Montgomery's hands, and as he tried to lean over to ride the mule to the ground, he and the animal both crumpled. As he hit the ground, Montgomery broke his scapula and collarbone, snapped nine ribs from his spine and punctured a lung.
"It was my favorite mule, but when I said 'Whoa' he thought I said 'Go,' and he just took off," said Montgomery, who after going through a divorce decided to step back from coaching to be with his boys more. "I hit the ground and saw black. At first I thought I had just knocked the breath out of myself, but then I realized I had blood in my mouth and coming out of my nose, my chest was numb and I couldn't move my left arm.
"I remember saying, 'Lord if you're going to take me, I wish you'd wait because of my boys.' I looked like I'd been run over by a car."
Paramedics told Montgomery he would need to be transported to Erlanger by ambulance rather than LifeForce because of the risk of his punctured lung collapsing.
"The doctors worried that I would die in the air if they tried that, and they already had to resuscitate me once on the table," Montgomery said. "All my internal organs were bruised except my heart. They were up front with me and said it was very touch and go whether I would make it through."
Montgomery underwent several surgeries, including having the nine ribs wired back to his spine, three steel plates inserted into his back and a six-inch metal plate installed to hold his collarbone in place.
"The mule is fine, but I have more steel in my body than a new Volkswagen," Montgomery joked.
He spent 14 days in the hospital, the first nine of those in ICU, and has lost 44 pounds since the accident.
Doctors have told him it will take as much as six months for him to fully recover, which puts returning to his teaching job and especially coaching this fall in doubt.
Even minor tasks and walking short distances are still taxing. Montgomery admitted he still has trouble sleeping and tires easily. He said it took 55 minutes just to shave his head earlier this week.
The toughest obstacle was not being able to see his sons for the nearly three-week hospital stay.
"I've got a 9-year-old and 7-year-old twins, and they're my life," Montgomery said. "My family didn't want them to see me like I was in the hospital, so when I got back home it was very emotional for me. I showed them my scars for the first time this week and my 9-year-old said, 'Daddy, it'll be all right. I still love you.' Boy, that meant the world to hear.
"I'll have pain the rest of my life, but it's better than the alternative. I'm blessed by the Lord just to still be here. It's changed my whole outlook on life and makes me appreciate life more and realize how delicate it is. I don't take a moment for granted now. I cherish life. Not being able to move, having tubes in me and wondering if I'm going to walk out of the hospital or being carried out on a gurney makes me appreciate it so much."