LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --
We hear of people who suffer horrific injuries and come back to lead productive lives.
One such person who survived this type of injuries is former Air Force Capt. David Berling. He is currently a civilian contract specialist with the 56th Contracting Squadron. He served in the same position on active-duty at Luke Air Force Base from 2003 to 2006. Berling was medically retired from the Air Force in 2009.
The 56th Fighter Wing sponsored a luncheon in conjunction with National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Berling was invited by Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein, 56th FW commander, to be the guest speaker. The luncheon was, in part, the marking of the 64th year that the United States celebrates employment opportunities for people with disabilities. This year's theme is A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce
The fact that Berling is alive is a miracle and story of profound courage.
His world was turned upside down April 29, 2007, while stationed at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. He had taken a flight on a private airplane that crashed in Athens, Calif. Berling suffered numerous injuries, which included a traumatic brain injury, chipped vertebrae, broken jaw, eight broken teeth, bruised lungs and kidneys, a lacerated spleen and liver, and broken femurs.
The road to recovery was a long and tedious one that involved long hospital stays and numerous surgeries.
Berling said he has had 28 surgeries and a hospital inpatient stay of more than two months.
"I was rushed to Harbor UCLA Medical Center, where I underwent life-saving surgery to amputate both of my legs through the knees because following the crash, my lower legs bones were broken into numerous pieces, and I was bleeding to death," he recalled. "I was transferred to Naval Medical Center, San Diego, after five days, where I remained an inpatient for more than two months and in rehabilitation for another year."
A person's outlook on life can profoundly change after a catastrophic accident of this type. One can choose to have a negative, hopeless outlook or realize while life may not be the same, with adjustments, it can still be productive and good.
Berling has refused to let this experience make him gloomy.
"First, I refuse to let my accident define who I am," he said. "I can still do everything I want to in life. I had to learn a new way to do it. Secondly, I was extremely lucky. The outcome could have been much worse, especially when I look at the photos of the accident."
More than that, Berling said that the doctors wanted to amputate his right arm, but his living will stated that if he lost three limbs, he didn't want to live. The arm didn't work for more than two months, but with a lot of rehabilitation, he now uses his right arm despite a few minor problems.
Berling used his speech at the luncheon to stress that the workforce will be going through profound changes.
"The workforce will be changing due to the wars of the past 10 years," he said. "There will be approximately 50,000 people who have suffered injuries, which include traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs, vision and hearing. These people will be rejoining the labor force, and we need to spearhead the initiative to work with and hire the disabled. These disabled individuals have worked hard to rejoin the workforce and are highly motivated to succeed."
Besides a full day at work, Berling has an arduous regiment of staying fit. He said he lifts weights every other day and on nonlifting days he hand cycles nearly eight miles. Also, he said he likes to go shooting and has gone back to flying airplanes.
"My physical fitness is paramount to living a mobile life because walking with prosthetics from bilateral above-knee amputations takes 280 percent more energy than what the average nondisabled person uses to walk," he said.
Berling has authored a book, which will be in bookstores in late November or early December. Additional information on the accident and the book can be obtained by going to Berling's website at www.theberlingdream.com
or his Facebook page at Facebook.com/theberlingdream
Berling said he is not a hero and is philosophical about the accident and his life.
"I wouldn't change my life even if I could," he said. "Experiences shape who we are, and I feel I'm a better person for having gone through this experience. I've been given a second chance at life, and I'm going to make the most of it."
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