2013 was a year of challenges for the Belcher family.
In two days, tennis instructor Jeff Belcher, 41, went from being a healthy, fit, productive male to a patient laid low by a catastrophic illness.
"On Sunday, March 3, I was playing tennis and in the early morning on Tuesday, March 5, I was admitted to Hillcrest Hospital ICU with life threatening conditions brought on by a Thyroid Storm," Belcher recalled.
The tennis professional was suffering from a suppressed immune system due to Graves Disease. He spent two full months in a coma.
"I had 15 major surgeries that included amputations due to lack of oxygen and blood flow in limbs," Belcher said.
Doctors amputated both hands, his right leg from the knee down, and part of his left foot. Surgeries that cost him his livelihood.
And after all that, he remains grateful to be alive.
"God put me in this position for a reason," Jeff said. "I have to look at it in a positive manner."
And by his side, through it all, was his wife of 14 years, Lora, making all the tough decisions while he lay unconscious.
"They put him on this machine, the ECMO [ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenator] which saved his life," Lora said. "They told me that only 10 percent of the people that have to go on the machine survive."
Patients placed on ECMO only are able to stay on it for approximately 10 to 12 days, according to hospital authorities.
"On day 11 they did a trial test by turning the machine lower to see if he could handle being taken off. I was informed he failed that pre-test," Lora said.
"With that knowledge I entered his hospital room on day 12 prior to them removing the machine to say my final goodbye for the last time. It was the hardest thing I will ever face. I had done that several times during his two month coma but this time was different. I said to him, 'I know your journey is not over and that you have more to do. You will watch these kids grow up and you will walk our daughter, Kendall, down the aisle at her wedding. There will be really hard challenges but I know you can do this,'" Lora said.
And he is doing it.
"I hope that Jeff's miracle spirit can touch as many individuals as possible as long as he can," she said. "I love him so much and I am so proud of him."
Today, Jeff is walking a mile and a half a day, running laps in his unfinished basement, attending his children's activities and walking his dog, appropriately named, Miracle.
"It's a long way from coming home in my wheelchair three months ago to shooting basketball with my son, Jack, the other day with the aid of prosthetics from Yankee Bionics in Akron. They even gave me a shirt with the 'Bionic Man' logo on the back," Jeff said.
And even more miracles may be possible in the near future. This month the Belchers will be traveling out of state to explore the possibility of hand transplant surgery.
"I cannot thank all the angels out there for their outpouring of help, generosity and compassion that has guided my family through this difficult time," Jeff said.
The Belchers expressed gratitude for all the people and organizations that have stepped up to help them -- people that know them and strangers who do not. Their church, St. Marys, is still providing nourishing meals to the family and people are still contributing to the Jeff Belcher Benevolent Fund at First Merit Bank, 116 W. Streetsboro St., Suite 13, Hudson.
"There have been so many angels, thank you just doesn't cut it. And that's what they are, angels," Jeff said.
And as the Belchers move forward, Jeff is considering a career in motivational speaking ... and perhaps, a book.
His first speaking engagement is slated for Feb. 10 at the First Congregational Church of Hudson.
For more information, email Jeff at email@example.com.