Truman Duncan is a 40 year-old railroad switchman and father of three who works at Greenbrier Rail Services in Cleburne, Texas refurbishing and fixing trains. His father and grandfather were both railroad engineers, and even as a little boy Truman knew that he wanted to work with trains.
In June 2006, a misstep in the yard left Truman fighting for his life. He fell between a pair of moving railroad freight cars and the wheels cut off his legs, slicing through the bone of his pelvis.
"We were coming down this track right down here headed to like some cars just like sitting just like that right there," he says. "Ended up falling off and when I did I stood up and the end of the car just hit me in the chest...I grabbed a hold of it and I was hanging on by the knuckle. And I had decided to actually to run backwards and kind of just jump out of the way."
Trapped beneath the wheels, Truman stayed conscious long enough to remember his cell phone, which was remarkably still attached to his belt. "I kind of you know had my eyes closed and just like and it just hit me, you know, my cell phone. And I thought and I reached over there and felt on my hip and there it was, you know. So, that's when I made the 911 call...I knew all I needed to do was just, you know, wait until help got there and then maybe I'd have a chance."
After calling 911, rescuers combed the vast rail yard to find Truman alive and entangled in the wheels of the train. Truman was extricated and airlifted to a hospital, where doctors found all of his major organs intact. "When I first got the call [about] a man run over by a train, I thought I'd be coming down to, as usual, pronounce somebody dead," says Dr. David Smith, the ER physician on duty. "After a brief survey, my first thought was, 'Oh my goodness. This is a survivable injury."
Truman lived to tell his tale. Now, Miracle Detectives Dr. Indre Viskontas and Randall Sullivan are on the case to determine whether his survival story is a miracle, or the result of medical technology.
After enduring 23 operations in 42 days and many months of rehab, Truman returned to work at the rail yard. He lost all of his left leg and most of his right leg, parts of his pelvis and a kidney, and now relies on a wheelchair to get around. Dr. David Smith, the emergency room doctor who helped save Truman's life, tells indre that Truman's blood loss may have actually saved his life.
Dr. Smith says his low blood pressure shut down his body's system, sending him into preservation mode. "We let somebody's blood pressure stay low until we get them to the situation where we can control the bleeding," he says. "We don't try to heroically resuscitate somebody outside of the hospital."
Dr. Smith says the point at which the train severed Truman's body also preserved key organs. The train wheels did not cause a "cavitary" injury to Truman's midsection, keeping his heart, lungs, liver and one kidney in tact.
As Indre investigates the scientific side of Truman's survival, Randall looks for the deeper meaning. "I realize that there's a lot of people could say, "Well, Truman's just a very lucky guy," he says. "Ultimately you're back to a philosophical or theological argument. Luck doesn't enter into it if, if God exists."
Randall boards a helicopter with Lt. Scott Lail, an emergency medical technician(EMT), and one of the first responders to reach Truman. Like Randall, Lail feels that there were other forces at work in Truman's survival. From the air, he shows Randall the layout of the vast rail yard.
Watch Lt. Lail and Randall tour the rail yard in a helicopter.
"One of the things that just worked so miraculously was the fact that everybody was arriving in such a timely fashion that we were able to do. Had we have only had five people on scene, we wouldn't have been able to do all the things we did as quickly as possible because we didn???t have enough people to devote to each job. For every step to fall like it did, I can't explain it. It just did. So, to me, that's a miracle," says Lail.
"Truman arrived at a place where he not only accepted the condition he was left in, but embraced it as a chance to begin a new life. That's what he calls it, his new life," Randall says. "The man has risen far above what I would expect from almost anyone, above what I can imagine achieving myself. And people who actually know him and are around him recognize immediately that Truman Duncan is a whole man."
In the final step of their investigation, Randall and Indre meet with rehab specialist Glenn Bixler, who helped Truman regain mobility after the accident. "Truman is unique," Dr. Bixler says. "I thought that he'd be able to get into a chair and do some mobility. He has exceeded expectations in how well he does that. How well he drives. How well he gets to and from work. He's done a great job of that."
After their investigation, Randall and Indre come together to discuss their conclusions.
Randall: [Truman] has become an inspiration to hundreds and thousands of people who work in as EMT's to tell them that, you know, anything is possible. Don't give up on anybody. And remember, that his survival involved a lot of things. It involved being dragged along by that railroad 50 feet, holding onto that iron bar. Given the size of that yard and they didn't know where he was, it should have taken them a lot longer to find Truman. If anything had happened in a different way or out of sequence or so many other, so many things that could have gone wrong, and by the odds, should have gone wrong.
Indre: On the other hand, the things that we've learned haven't seemed totally out of the ordinary for me. As soon as Dr. Smith saw Truman, he felt that it was a survivable injury. The fact that he didn't pass out made sense because there was no head trauma. And the fact that he didn't bleed out makes sense because they were using this procedure called permissive hypotension, which is sort of the newest and greatest way of treating that kind of blood loss. It seems like the power of modern medicine. I have a hard time calling this a miracle, but I was very much moved by the story of Truman.
Randall: I will call it a miracle, but it's important to me that we have agreed that Truman is this inspirational figure. He's inspired a lot of other people and he's inspiring us. And, that's almost a miracle that we agree.