Man Wills Himself to Live After Body Nearly Severed by Train

Truman Duncan said he survived being nearly cut in half by thinking of family.

January 22, 2009, 1:17 PM

Jan. 23, 2009— -- Truman Duncan should be dead.

Most people don't survive being run over by a train, but Duncan did.

In June 2006, Duncan was working at his job in the rail yards of Cleburne, Texas, when he slipped and fell onto the tracks while riding on the front of a train car that was moving toward a repair dock.

"I just fell," the 38-year-old said. "At that point I started running backwards, you know, obviously fast as I could, and I tried to outrun it. I didn't make it."

Duncan was pulled under the rail car, its wheels grinding steadily underneath.

"It just felt like a monster," he said. "I couldn't get away from it, like it was just pulling me in, and I'm pushing away … [and] I was cut in two."

By the time the rail car came to a stop, Duncan had been dragged 75 feet. His lower body, was still entangled in the wheels of the train, and he was cut nearly in half at the waist, with one leg attached by a single muscle.

"The pain was real severe, and then it just kinda like it wasn't there," Duncan said. "I think something else kicks in and then you try to do things necessary to stay alive."

Duncan knew he had to fight to stay alive.

"I knew if I just lay there and lay there and lay there, eventually I was gonna die," he said. "But if I stayed awake, made sure I got my help there then was a possibility that I would live and that's when I realized that I might have my phone on my hip."

Duncan was able to reach his cell phone and call 911.

CLICK HERE to hear Duncan's 911 call.

As ambulances and medics raced to the rail yard, he made one more call -- to his family.

"I called and talked to them. And started getting upset, and then that's when I just kinda closed the phone and put my phone over to the side and started trying to survive," he said.

Fighting to Survive

Duncan said he clung to thoughts of his wife, daughter and son.

"I was fixing to fall asleep, everything just started kinda getting quiet," he said. "And I just kinda felt like I was going, and when I would feel that come on, that's when I'd reach up and grab ahold of the train and raise myself up and start kinda fighting again."

Fifty miles north, in Forth Worth, helicopter paramedics James Bailey and Teresa Campbell got the call to come to Cleburne. They had little hope Duncan would be saved.

"It didn't seem humanly possible to be cut in half by a rail car and still be alive to survive that injury. So when we arrived on the scene and found him pinned under the train wheels we were surprised to find him awake and talking," Campbell said.

Bailey was just as shocked. "I'd say his odds were a million to one against him surviving."

Aware that every second counted, a team worked frantically to raise the rail car with airbags to free Duncan.

Despite losing more than half the blood in his body, Duncan was still alive when the helicopter took off for Texas Health Hospital in Fort Worth, 62 minutes after the accident. He was rushed to the trauma unit, where Dr. David Smith took stock of Duncan's staggering injuries.

"He was torn down to just literally one cell layer of tissue between his abdominal contents, his intestines and the outside world," Smith said.

Duncan endured 23 surgeries over the next six weeks, astonishing doctors with not only his physical strength but his mental courage.

"I had the will to live -- there's no ifs and ands and buts, I had the will to live," he said.

Dr. Kenneth Kamler, a surgeon and adventurer who has explored the Amazon and climbed Mount Everest, said he has seen people survive incredible injuries in some of the most extreme conditions on Earth.

"The human body has this very subtle but extremely powerful ability to squelch pain when you need to have it squelched to survive," he said. "Your brain is directing all its power to get you to survive."

'The Will to Live'

Kamler said that kind of will is an incredibly powerful thing.

"The will to live is paramount in your survival in a desperate situation," he said. "I think it makes all the difference between life and death for many, many people."

Duncan's left leg was amputated at the hip, and the right leg was amputated above the knee. He hopes to soon explore getting prosthetic limbs

Today Duncan has an office job at the rail yard and is an inspiration to everyone who saw him on that June day -- living proof that human beings can beat impossible odds.

"That day," he said, "was a miracle."

To find out what kind of a survivor you are, take the Survivor IQ test.