Heather Bland has written a book about her life — and her death — and her life again.
A story that began with a tragic accident when she was 4 years old has flowered into a remarkable tale of a woman's will to survive. Bland says that life is tenacious for everyone, but "mine is much more so."
By most accounts Bland should have died in 1973, when the door on her mom's Dodge Charger suddenly opened and she was crushed under the wheel.
"All the kids were in the car, and Heather was sitting with her back to the door. … She was leaning on it. She went out," said Bland's mother Sandy Robertson. "And I didn't know she was out until I heard her scream. So, I stopped the car, got out, the car was still on her. The blood was already coming from her. I knew we were in deep trouble."
Bland's 6-year-old sister, Rebel, was in the back seat, riveted by the first memory of her life. "And I remember thinking … how could she possibly survive?" said Rebel.
"I got down to Heather. Got in her face. Told her she had to shut up. I said, 'Honey, you have to quit crying. Quit screaming. Everything's going to be fine. You're going to be fine,'" said Sandy.
Bland's pelvis and many of her internal organs were destroyed, and Sandy says that, "The doctors told me, your child is going to die. She can't live. There's no way. "
But the tiny child fought back, surgery after surgery, year after year. During one failed operation to reconstruct her bladder, her heart stopped. She was shocked back to life even as her anesthesia wore off.
"It's her spirit," said Dr. Anthony Casale, when asked to explain Bland's remarkable will to survive. "It's her courage."
Casale heads the urology department at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. "She may be more vulnerable physically. But from a spirituality standpoint, she's less vulnerable. She's the Sherman tank of patients. I mean, she's indestructible."
"I could stay in bed and cry every day if I wanted to," said Bland. "I hurt 24/7. But I don't. I don't. I have to believe it's your choice to be a bitter SOB or a person that is positive in your pain. … Everything you do in your life is a choice. Everything."
Make no mistake — the nearly 200 surgeries, daily steroids and constant infections had taken a toll. And doctors viewed her chances of ever having a baby highly unlikely.
Bland married in 1990, and in 1991 she became pregnant. She carried the child full term, only to have him die in the delivery room. Her body had been broken before, but this — for the first time — shattered her spirit.
"I had suffered my whole life. This was God's gift for, you know, hanging in there and going through what I've been through and why was this being taken from me?" she said. "What had I done to deserve this?"
Bland didn't go to church for months and says she didn't want to see any family or friends. But she did want company: Ever since she was a child, horses had given her comfort. When her favorite mare — a Tennessee Walker named Gracie — gave birth to a foal, Bland saw it as a good sign.
And sure enough, in 1995 daughter Mackenzie was born, against all odds. She is now 12 and says she knows all about the circumstances of her birth.