Patrick Michel is being a patient man during his first-ever interview about his near-death experience. Seated on the end of his leather couch, he cannot control his tapping fingers, which sets a nervous tone in the conversation.
“It was an Easter I’ll never forget,” Michel said, while staring at the ground.
Michel was camping in Chester with his family during Easter weekend in 2009. The 16-year-old’s family weekend getaway changed their lives forever. On the second day, the Michel family went to Carolina Venture World in Columbia.
“It was a real nice day, it was one of the first 80 degree sunny days that season,” Patrick’s middle brother, C.J. Michel said.
Patrick Michel hardly made eye contact when answering questions. He was playing with a small hole in his shirt when he began to explain what happened that day.
“C.J, Charlie and I were fighting over which bike we would get. We got to the park around 9:30 a.m. We rode all day long. I got the Kawasaki lime green bike. C.J. was on the 250 Honda,” Patrick Michel said.
There were 14 people total that rode down the trails together. The riders were friends and family members of the Michel family. The first trail was 2.6 miles long and took around 10 minutes to complete. “We all looked funny with our goggles and helmets on,” Patrick Michel said.
Barbara Michel was soft-spoken over the phone when she went into detail about the accident. “Jay and I signed waivers for C.J. and Patrick to ride around all day. The park never did safety tests,” she said.
To this day, Patrick Michel has not ordered the same sandwich he did on that day while at Subway. Patrick and C.J. split a foot-long sandwich on their lunch break which had ham and American cheese with jalapeños on it, and a side of original sun chips.
Michel started to mumble when he began to explain what happened. The boys had a head start on everyone else. They came across a race track and rode around it a couple of times. C.J. Michel said that he noticed Patrick’s brakes were not working correctly after a few laps. Patrick almost ran a buddy off the hill after the first time around.
C.J paused and sighed loudly before going into detail about what he witnessed on that sunny day. “I kept going around the track. I noticed a dirt bike was just laying around on the dirt near a cliff.” C.J. began to noticeably become uneasy. “When I lapped around again, I noticed three people were looking over the embankment. When I looked over to see what my uncle was looking at, I saw Patrick laying there.”
Barbara Michel’s brother yelled at C.J. to go get his father who was half a mile up the road. C.J. and Patrick Michel’s father Jay is a volunteer firefighter. Jay came over and tried to go down to the embankment. Patrick Michel had fallen 30 feet. His uncle watched the ATV roll over him twice. Patrick does not remember climbing up the cliff. Patrick Michel had climbed halfway up the cliff and then passed out.
“All I remember is going to turn, going over the hill, then thinking what did I just do. I woke up in the hospital confused,” Patrick Michel said.
Barbara Michel said she sent C.J. and Charlie with their aunt, she did not want them to witness anything.
C.J. Michel tensed up when he continued his point of view. “I have never really told anybody this outside of our family. When Charlie and I were watching Patrick be placed in the ambulance on a stretcher, Charlie asked me if I saw the people in white robes helping the EMS out,” C.J. said. He sighed, then paused.
Later that day the EMS told Patrick’s dad that it felt like someone was carrying Patrick on the stretcher. Patrick explained that the EMS had to shut down the highway so he could be transported to Richland Memorial Hospital.
Patrick died once on the helicopter. The team was able to bring him back to life. Once Patrick got to the hospital, they rushed him to surgery. He was bleeding internally and when they sliced him open, they saw that Patrick’s liver was squashed. Patrick went through four bags of blood.
“No mother wants to go through that. Losing him once on the helicopter and then twice during his first surgery was a nightmare,” Barbara Michel said.
Patrick weakly smiled. “Honestly what saved me was the skin around my liver. It’s like a grape [my liver], and the skin around it kept me alive by preventing more bleeding,” Patrick Michel said.
Patrick Michel was in the ICU for seven days. His family did not see him for two days. “I was so lonely. After the first and second surgery, they didn’t know if I was going to make it. I died once more in the second surgery,” he said.
Patrick grew up listening to Queen. He started playing their Killer Queen album and began to sing along while showing his scars. Patrick has a scar below his belly button, two slits on the right side of his body, and a scar straight down his abdomen.
The cause of the accident has not been confirmed, but Barbara Michel said it is one of three things: driving too fast around a sharp turn, the broken brakes, or the lack of a guard rail around the turn.
“On top of everything, I remember my parents being stressed out on the drive back after the hospital let me go. We were near Bowman, almost halfway home, when Richland Memorial called my parents and said that they needed to bring me back in because the doctor mixed up my records with someone else’s. That was the first time I heard my mama cuss,” Patrick said while chuckling.
C.J. Michel said once Patrick walked into his grandparents’ house, where C.J. was staying at the time, he said he hardly recognized his brother. “That boy walked in and he went from 120 pounds to 90 pounds, I was afraid to hug him.”
Patrick Michel could not play sports for two years. “It was hard watching all my buddies on the field play every Friday night,” he said.
Michel could finish his freshman year of high school. The school board worked with his accident. Two months after the accident Barbara and Jay Michel went to the park and saw a guard rail up.
Patrick Michel said that he lost some vision, short term memory, and has lower back pain now. “Despite everything that happened, I wouldn’t change anything, it gave me a new perspective on life. I will never ride on an ATV again though.”
Ben Onufer, who works at the port with Patrick spoke highly of Patrick. “He is one determined son of a b****. By far one of the best employees here.”