ANDOVER, Minn. - The collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis on August 1, 2007, killed 13 people and injured more than 140. One of those injured individuals has written a new book titled "Collapsed: A Survivor's climb from the wreckage of the 35W bridge."
Garrett Ebling, 37, is now a small businessman, husband and father, but when the bridge collapsed he had only been engaged to marry for four days.
"I remember falling. I do not remember impact or anything like that. I did have to have a couple of people pull me out," Ebling recalled. "My seat belt had jammed so I was unable to get out of the car. When they did pull me out of the car, the water was right up to my neck."
Ebling had two broken ankles, a shattered left arm, a fractured vertebra in his back and misaligned or missing teeth. He also suffered a collapsed lung, ruptured diaphragm and his jaw was broken in three places.
"All of my face plates were shattered," said Ebling. "All the places where they connect. The surgeon said it was like potato flakes when they went in to do reconstructive surgery."
Ebling was in a medically-induced coma for almost three weeks. "So, when I came to, it was August 19 and there was a lot of catching up to do for me, even though I was one of the people that was right there in the thick of it."
Sonja Ebling agreed with Garrett that the year between the bridge collapse and their wedding was difficult. Garrett had been in the hospital for two months before he could really begin his physical and emotional recovery, which continues today.
"It was all about relearning everything, relearning how to walk. I took my first steps right about Thanksgiving that first year," said Ebling. "[There was] relearning how to eat. My jaw had been wired shut for six weeks. I had a stomach tube that fed me."
Enduring all the pain and patient recovery, Garrett and Sonja married on August 1, 2008. Ebling thought it would be the bookend of his bridge collapse story. However, he found that was not the case.
"I found out the hard way that there is a lot more physical and emotional healing that goes on past that. I had what was called adjustment disorder. It is a part of PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder]," said Ebling. "With PTSD, you have the violent flashbacks. I did not have that aspect of PTSD. I think that just had to do with the fact that I blacked out upon impact. When others have visions of hearing the screams or sirens or seeing the smoke, those are images that I do not have."
However, Ebling had to deal with anger, frustration and what he called "grasping for control."
"Those were all very real issues and as I have gone through a few years of therapy, [I have] now gotten a better handle on," said Ebling. "They can still flare up from time to time. That is the one thing that I was just really not expecting."
Sixteen months ago, Cooper Ebling was born. His father's survival of the bridge disaster will always be ancient history to his son. "I think having him around has helped me," Ebling said. "A lot of bridge survivors talk about the 'old' me and the 'new' me, and that bridge is sort of that demarcation point. He is going to be one of those people in my life that only knows this as me. I think that is a good thing."
In July 2011, Ebling opened his own small business, a "Which Wich" sandwich shop in Blaine. He intends to open a second shop in Maple Grove in late August. He said starting the store was part of having a "second opportunity at life."
As part of his healing, Ebling talked to other survivors and put his memories and recovery process into print. His book, "Collapsed," has been therapeutic. It is available on Amazon and at 35WBridgeCollapse.com.
"I did not think that there is a really good vehicle out there for people to understand what bridge survivors went through," Ebling said. "I wanted to know if my story was, my emotions and feelings were, what other bridge survivors were feeling, or if they were completely unique to me."
Ebling sees the book as of value to anyone "dealing with a trauma or a family member of somebody going through trauma. [The book is] my and other bridge survivors' reactions to that trauma and how we were able to kind of pull ourselves through that."
Ten percent of the book's proceeds are to go to SurvivorResources.org.
(Copyright 2012 KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)