Woodbury native perseveres after traumatic accident
Mark Mann is used to being on the water, whether on a Jet Ski, boat or just hanging out at the lake.
An otherwise enjoyable Father's Day weekend this year at his parents' cabin on Balsam Lake, Wis., turned into tragedy when the New Life Academy graduate was severely injured in an accident that took both his legs.
Four weeks have gone by and the 26-year-old is using the incident to inspire others, keep a positive attitude and embrace the fact that he survived.
It was a sunny Sunday this past June, which the east metro and western Wisconsin didn't get to see much of, so Mann and his family decided to soak it all in.
Mann got on the Jet Ski, while his sister and some friends took the boat out to do some wake surfing.
The group was enjoying the water, riding around and making some waves.
"We ended up going our separate ways," Mann said.
Then he fell off the Jet Ski.
"I don't remember how I fell off, I just remember I was in the water," he said.
What he recalls is panicking and being about 50 feet from a boat that was quickly closing in on him.
He tried swimming as fast as he could, but by the sound of the motor, the boat was now about 30 feet closer.
"Because I couldn't see the driver, there was no way he could see me," Mann said. "I knew I was in a lot of trouble at that point."
The way the boat was headed was "pretty much lined up to split me in half."
He attempted to dive and swam enough that he was now along the propeller. He couldn't avoid it and his feet hit the propeller.
"It felt almost like my feet were going through a meat grinder," Mann recalled.
His sister and her friends who were in the boat knew they hit something, but they had no idea it was her brother.
The driver immediately jumped out and lifted Mann's knees to the surface, he said.
Mann's friends helped tie ropes around his legs to try to contain the bleeding and keep him conscious before emergency responders arrived by helicopter.
From the time he got hit, Mann couldn't help but think of the "golden hour" and figured the next 30 minutes were crucial in keeping him alive.
Everyone worked fast to get him to shore, where 24-year-old Rachael Mann saw her husband severely injured for the first time.
"It didn't click with her that it was me," he said, and when it did, "I'll never forget her scream; it was the most nerve-wrenching scream I've ever heard in my life."
So he asked her to be strong for him and make sure things were getting done to keep him alive. Rachael has had some first responder training and knew Mann had suffered a life-threatening injury.
It was still difficult to see his legs all mangled with the muscle tissue deteriorating and most of the skin gone.
"I just wanted to make it better, but I couldn't," she said. "I hated seeing him in so much pain and it made me scared for him."
Mann was still keeping track of time, so he was grateful to hear sirens about 35 minutes after his accident, which meant there were still 25 minutes left in the "golden hour."
All shock and adrenaline had worn off and he began experiencing excruciating pain, he said.
Emergency responders loaded Mann into the helicopter and flew him to Regions Hospital in St. Paul where he had emergency surgery and numerous procedures.
However, there was too much damage and doctors were forced to amputate his legs from below the knees.
"God intervened and directed a lot of what was going on that day," Mann said.
An avid basketball player, Mann plans to get moving again after getting fit for prosthetics down the road.
But in the meantime, he's focusing on rehab, training his nerves to get used to losing his legs, working on a website that was due to launch the day after his accident and paying medical bills brought on by the unfortunate incident.
"I know that it'll never be the same obviously," he said, but he hopes for "at least 87 percent back to normal."
Mann and his family are holding a fundraiser from 6-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, at New Life Academy in Woodbury with live music, food, a silent auction and a presentation.
"There is a lot of good that's come out of this," he said.
"That may sound weird," he added, but he looks at the accident as a "miracle in disguise," with the opportunity to share his faith with others and what he's learned from his injuries.
"In life, it's very easy to be negative," Mann said, asking everyone to step back, evaluate their lives and prioritize. "Not only are you a better and a more happy person, but you also impact your friends and family."
"Life is very short," he added. "It might seem long especially when you're young. Time flies by."