In February 2013, longtime truck driver and OOIDA Life Member Erik Michaels received the scare of his life.
The Oceanside, Calif., resident was on a trip back from the East Coast when he collapsed and was rushed to a Louisiana hospital. Michaels was originally diagnosed as having a stroke and spent six days in the hospital before flying to California. A few days later, Michaels was rushed to the hospital again after losing all his motor skills.
“I was entirely paralyzed for about a month-and-a-half,” Michaels said. “I couldn’t move anything except my eye balls. They had to rotate me and turn me on a different side every two hours.”
It turned out that Michaels was suffering from Acute Disseminated Encephaliomyelitis (ADEM), which is a form of Multiple Sclerosis that causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord.
After enduring an intense series of rehabilitation, Michaels eventually began to walk again.
And less than two years after the ordeal, he was back in the driver’s seat.
For that, Michaels earned the 2015 Road Warrior Award and a $10,000 grand prize from Pilot Flying J.
“It’s an honor, and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” Michaels said.
The 64-year-old Michaels, who has been a truck driver for 43 years and has logged 7 million miles, was unable to work from February 2013 until October 2014.
“The bills started to pile up,” he said. “This gives us a chance to relax a little bit. We’ve been paying our bills, but this gives us a little security and comfort. I feel like we’re blessed. The bills were a burden. We were taking care of them, but this gets us ahead a little bit.”
Returning to truck driving may have seemed unrealistic for Michaels at first, but he remained determined.
“I gradually started to get my motor skills back,” Michaels said. “I went from a wheelchair to a walker and then to walking. After numerous checkups, I finally decided to take my physical to start driving again.”
Now, he’s back doing what he loves, delivering furniture for Oversize Parcel Service.
“I enjoy being a truck driver,” Michaels said. “I’ve been doing it all my life. It’s what I’m comfortable with. Anything outside of that, I’m like a duck out of water. It’s the way I know to have a source of income.”
The desire to get back to driving and the support from his wife, Helen, and daughter, Anna, served as motivation for Michaels. Anna was the one who nominated him for the Road Warrior Award.
“It was a challenge to get back,” he said. “Not being able to drive trucks again would have been a disappointment. For a year-and-a-half, I didn’t know what to do, because I couldn’t help my family. Everybody pitched in while I was down. But now I’m back, and I’m the breadwinner again.”
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