GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the cold wind whipped through a snowy back alley near Bond Street in downtown Grand Rapids, Seth Alfaro stared at the building where his story started nearly one year ago, with a fall that almost took his life, but instead renewed his faith.
Feb. 13, 2017 was sunny and in the 60s — perfect for Alfaro and his three friends to break out the skateboards.
After skating around the northwest side of Ottawa Avenue, the group stopped to take photos. Alfaro thought he could get a better shot of the sunset by climbing to the top of nearby buildings. Instead of climbing back down, he jumped onto the roof below, which gave way, sending him about 25 feet down. His friends said Alfaro bounced off a furnace and landed face down on the only open slab of concrete, inches from sharp, rusty metal.
“No one should ever be able to see their friend the way we saw Seth that night, you know, bleeding out. It was not a pretty sight,” Nate Wybenga said a year ago.
His friends eventually found him and called 911, but Alfaro’s battle had only begun.
RECOVERY AND REVELATIONS
Alfaro spent weeks in the hospital. For 10 days, he lay unresponsive in a coma. Doctors stressed to his parents that if Alfaro survived, his prognosis was poor, based on the bleeding and shearing of his brain.
Despite the doctors’ doubts, Alfaro began to recover. He learned how to walk and swallow again. His doctor couldn’t keep up with how fast he was recovering.
When Alfaro, a Catholic, began speaking, he told a story of an encounter with God while comatose. What he described was strikingly similar to what a stranger had thought and prayed for him while he lay unresponsive. He was a walking miracle to some and a mystery to others. To his friends, Alfaro symbolized hope.
A YEAR LATER
A year after his fall, Alfaro stared at the building that nearly took his life.
It wasn’t his first time returning to the scene. During the dark days of his recovery, he would find his way back.
“I would just find myself here, searching for something. But I don’t know what. Maybe like answers. I don’t know,” Alfaro said as he looked up toward the roof.
He always came alone, bringing with him battles with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“(I was) playing the ‘what if’ game a little bit,” Alfaro said. “I was dealing with that a lot. I’m good now — I’m on medication, counseling, working through it.”
Alfaro laughs a lot now. He says it’s a way to cope with what he’s been through.
Alfaro says he feels fully recovered, but he won’t forget the warmth he felt wrapped in during those crucial hours after his fall.
“I’ve said this to many people and I’ll say it till the day I die: I would do anything to be back in that hospital bed just to feel that love (of God) again. If I could go back to that hospital bed to feel that love again, I would do that in a heartbeat,” he said.
During a recent neuropsychology exam, Alfaro’s doctor told him with the type of injury he had, he should be severely impaired or dead. However, the test results pointed to a life without roadblocks.
‘EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON’
Since that accident one year ago, Alfaro says he’s been asked by countless people if he would change what happened that night. His answer is always the same.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m grateful. (I’m) very blessed. I think this has given me a platform to reach other people. I’m excited for the future now. That’s in the past, it happened, I recovered and God has led me the whole way.”
Alfaro is back in the driver’s seat, in all senses of the phrase. He’s got his license back and is traveling the country, sharing his story in hopes of inspiring others.
“That fire is still there. I was just in Wisconsin. I was there for a week and I gave multiple talks a day, talking to groups of kids or different groups of adults and sharing my experiences that I’ve gone through this past year,” he said. “I just want to share with people the love they’re missing out on.”
Alfaro drives past the building he plunged from every day on his way to work as a personal trainer. The young man who was being held up by straps and doctors as he learned how to walk again is back to training others to reach their goals.
“I just see, I’ve come so far. I mean, I feel so good right now. I’m able to look back and think, ‘Wow, I remember the person who I was like when all that happened and that’s totally changed.’ I mean, I love the person I am now.”
That person has a unique perspective on life.
“People are always like, ‘Were you ever mad that it happened? Like, why me, God? Why did I have to do it? Like, why me?’ That’s never been a problem for me,” Alfaro said. “I like to envision it like this: Nobody made me get up on the roof. Nobody made the guy who made the roof make it weak. It’s all free will. I went up there on my own. And it happened. The roof gave out.
“I like to envision God standing over me in the shop, me laying on the ground all bloody and scratched up and thinking like, ‘Oh Seth, what have you done? Hold on to me and we’ll get through this together.’ That’s what I like to think of it as. He’s always offering his strength to us — we just have to accept it.”