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.
'She Can't Live'
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.
The Miracle of Mackenzie
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.
Bland and her husband divorced in 1996, but five years ago DeWayne Bland became part of the family. Bland fell for the truck driver by trade immediately, and soon had a conversation few could ever imagine.
"On the seventh day of our dating I brought him home and I just said, 'I have some things to confess,'" Bland said." I literally pulled down my pants, my underwear and spun in a circle, showed him all my bags, my scars, my grafts … and it's not nice to look at."
"When she showed me, I had never seen anything like that in my life," said DeWayne.
'God Said Yes'
"I just laid it all out there and I said, 'I'm just telling you, we both have crushes on you. And if you can't handle it, I'm going to think more of you if you leave now than if you leave in six months,'" said Bland. "And he said, 'Those bags and those scars gave you the heart you have, and that's really what I'm attracted to. … I'm not going anywhere.'"
DeWayne says he knew after a few days that he would marry Bland. Her reaction? "You're crazy."
Maybe, but they've been married now for five years. Bland's health, however, remains precarious. Unable to afford health insurance, she relies on donations, charity by doctors and now, the small proceeds from the book she's written about her life called "God Said Yes." Click here to read an excerpt of the book.
Bland's life has defied every prediction, thanks, perhaps, to the one part of her that somehow managed to escaped being damaged all those years ago:
"I think it's her heart," said DeWayne. "She has one of the biggest hearts I've ever seen, and she's a fighter."
"What do I have to be afraid of?" said Bland. "Dying? I'm really not. I mean, I'm afraid of losing Mackenzie. I'm afraid of losing my husband. But I have to believe there's a better place out there. I have to believe this will be whole one day."