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Surprise Guest: Christian Cooper addresses HCS employees at Institute

 

25-August-2016 (HCS) - Hoover City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathy Murphy had just finished showing “The Death Crawl” scene from the 2006 movie Facing the Giants.  This specific scene centers around a high school football team’s afternoon field practice, powerfully displaying the importance of never giving up.  The video was a pivotal part of Dr. Murphy's 2016 HCS Institute presentation, a moment where she was discussing the challenges faced by the school system as the 2016-2017 school year began.

“I want to introduce you to someone at this point who has really faced the giants,” Dr. Murphy said.

That’s when Christian Cooper walked on stage, much to the surprise of the 1,800 or so Hoover City Schools employees who had gathered at Hunter Street Baptist Church.  Applause quickly filled the auditorium as people began to realize who was standing before them.

Christian approached the podium, paused for a moment, and began his talk, expressing appreciation to everyone in the audience for their thoughts, prayers, and concerns.

"I'd like to begin by saying 'thank you' to you guys.  I am a product of the Hoover City Schools.  I graduated in 2009 from Hoover High School.  How you face and how you handle challenges is what's important."

For those unfamiliar with Christian’s journey, he recounted for the audience the February 27, 2016, vehicle fire on I-65 south in Hoover that changed his life forever.

"I was in a car fire, burned 80% of my body and when I came to - I was in a ditch pretty much in the woods.  To my thinking, I was just off the side of the road.  When no one came to help, it was a little discouraging.  I knew I had one thing to do and that was to get out of the car.  I wasn't going to let this take me that day.  I wasn't going to burn alive in this car."

In his first few moments inside the burning car, he tried unsuccessfully kicking out the driver’s-side window, a window he called “indestructible.”  He honked the horn and yelled relentlessly for help.  He then slid down in his seat and kicked the windshield with all his might.

"About that time, I had some true angels come and I just remember hearing '...we are going to get you out of here, but you're going to have to help us."

The “angels” were passers-by who had either witnessed the accident, or been stuck in traffic and ran to help.  One of those happened to be an off-duty Birmingham firefighter who pulled over and took quick action to help Christian.

"To my luck, I did not realize the extent of my burn injuries.  I was on fire when I [was helped up] to the top of the [interstate shoulder]," Christian said.

Christian was initially taken to U.A.B. then flown to a highly-specialized burn center in Augusta, Georgia, where he spent several months in intensive care and ultimately, rehabilitation.  Following countless surgeries, Christian had to learn many basic skills all over again.

“Having a great attitude has been so important to my journey.  There have been days where I didn't want to do what the doctors wanted me to do. I'm 25 years you old, you know.  This is the prime of my life.  For months, I had to learn to walk again. I had to learn to feed myself again.  And that's difficult."

What is Christian’s most valued takeaway from his ordeal?  The importance of a positive attitude.  He says his nearly-five-months in the intensive care unit taught him much; not the least of which was the direct connection between his attitude and his recovery.

"The way we approach our challenges in life is a big, big, thing. You would see people [in the hospital] who have been there for months, maybe even years.  Then there would be this one week where their attitude would turn around.  It was almost like it was a correlation with how their health was."

Those observations - and more - have recalibrated Christian’s outlook on life.  He has many months of recovery still ahead of him to include more operations and medical procedures.  Despite these looming challenges, keeping a positive attitude remains his number-one focus.

"Was I dealt a bad hand?  Maybe.  Was it easy to say, 'Oh, poor me.  Why me?  Isn’t it awful?' Sure.  But what good does that do for yourself and the people around you?  It has been a great learning experience about attitude.  To me, that is everything now."

See the full 2016 Institute video here.


-Jason Gaston

Hoover City Schools

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