(Published in the News and Tribune Sept. 12, 2017)
CLARK COUNTY — It’s just like how it is in the movies. A car crash.
Your ears ring as rescuers rush around you — their words muffled by the sound.
Mark Peredo learned this as he sat trapped in the driver’s seat of his car in April of 2015, his face covered in blood. Peredo glanced at his reflection in the rearview mirror and immediately looked away. It was too gruesome.
He had just been hit by another car head-on while on his way home from signing a client for his fledgling marketing and graphic design business.
The vehicle that hit him had been traveling northbound on Interstate 65 in Scott County. The driver inexplicably crossed the median and barreled into northbound traffic, hitting one car, then Peredo’s.
The Lanesville resident survived, but his injuries were another story. The crash left Peredo’s nose broken and his foot shattered. The injuries took over a year and multiple, agonizing surgeries to halfway-recover from. And the bad news didn’t stop coming.
Peredo’s business was put on hold. He learned his father had cancer. Later, his father died from the cancer.
Peredo was left isolated and angry.
“I didn’t want to be here,” Peredo said. “I wanted to be somewhere else.”
Peredo decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, an approximately 480-mile trek from France, up and down the Pyrenees mountain and through Spain.
Peredo was focused on himself. He couldn’t bring himself to care about the driver who caused his accident.
April 10 was an unremarkable day for Luke Hutchins. The Henryville resident woke up and drove to his job at the McDonald’s in Memphis. After work, he stepped into his car and started driving home on Interstate 65.
He woke up in a helicopter.
Hutchins soon learned that he had passed out in his car, eventually striking two other vehicles. The resulting accident earned him a broken jaw, a cracked knee cap, a broken fibula, broken ribs, a broken finger, a sprained thumb and a sprained ankle.
Hutchins remembers a police officer walking into his hospital room as he lay incapacitated. The officer took his license.
“I’ll see you in a few months,” he said brusquely.
But it wasn’t a bad choice that sent Hutchins and his car flying over the interstate median. He hadn’t taken any drugs or drank any alcohol. The real reason for his sudden loss of consciousness was revealed from a neurologist-ordered test. Two malformations. Unnatural knots of veins that had lain dormant in Hutchins’ brain since birth, constricting blood flow.
The sinister tangles had thrown Hutchins into an epileptic seizure while he drove his car on April 10, causing him to wreck. But that wasn’t the end of his diagnosis.
As Hutchins’ brain continues to grow, the knotted veins will only grow tighter, constricting the blood further. Eventually, the 33-year-old will die from the defect.
“I was in complete shock,” Hutchins said. “Like, what just happened to me? And how did this happen to me?”
While grappling with the news, Hutchins continued to sustain seizure after seizure. With each loss of consciousness and each violent contraction, Hutchins’ freedoms slipped away.
“I can no longer babysit my kids by myself,” he said. “I can’t drive any longer. I can’t carry a loaded gun anymore. I’m not really supposed to use an oven anymore. I’m not really supposed to be alone. I can’t walk by myself anymore. There’s a lot of things like that that I can’t do, really.”
Meanwhile, thousands of miles east, Peredo had begun his months-long journey across Spain. He began the trip hopeful, but angry: at his father’s death, his failed business, the accident.
Peredo blasted through the mountains and quaint Spanish towns. Along the way, he joined up with fellow travelers, engaging in deep conversations and laughter.
With each step, his anger dissipated.
Peredo returned home from the Camino in November of 2016.
“I don’t think you’re finished,” his wife told him.
Peredo agreed, but he wasn’t sure of what he had left to do. It took him a while to realize that he wanted to connect with the driver who had started it all.
“If you’re going to fully get through things, then you’re going to have to take it through all the way,” he said.
Peredo didn’t even know what had caused the driver to crash.
“I just wanted to find out who the guy was and was he OK? What happened that day?” Peredo said.
He found a news article describing the accident and — for the first time — saw the words “medical emergency.”
Peredo discovered Hutchins’ father’s phone number and was told that Hutchins had epilepsy. It was then that Peredo asked Hutchins’ dad if he could meet his son.
Hutchins was wary of meeting with Peredo at first. He feared that Peredo would be angry with him. But Peredo had made the effort to track Hutchins down.
“The least I could do was meet him,” Hutchins said.
That day, Peredo asked Hutchins to accompany him on another Camino trip. Hutchins liked the idea immediately.
PLANNING A JOURNEY
The biggest hurdle to Hutchins’ Camino trip is funding. He met Peredo in April. At the time, Hutchins hadn’t qualified for disability yet.
Peredo has set up a GoFundMe account with a goal of $12,000 to pay for his, Hutchins’ and two other minders’ trips. Even though Hutchins hasn’t had a seizure in one month thanks to a three-drug cocktail of prescriptions, he’s still at danger of one. Peredo wants someone with medical experience accompanying Hutchins at all times.
With the help of the public, as well as that of local veteran organizations, Team Red, White & Blue and Athena’s Sisters, Peredo believes that they’ll reach their goal.
He’s already booked October tickets to Europe for him and Hutchins.
Peredo believes that the pilgrimage might help Hutchins as much as it helped him.
“People need victories in their lives to be able to move on,” he said. “And I’m not talking about victories in hurting somebody else, but victories in making something good out of something that’s such a bad way to go through.”
Hutchins accepted Peredo’s invitation because he has the same hopes. When he talks about what the trip might allow him to do, he speaks as if he’s already finished the journey.
“It was kind of a way to escape,” he said. “And just kind of take a step back and analyze what was going on. And really stop and just get away and think about what was happening to me and what had just happened to me.”
Hutchins hopes that the journey will help him figure out where to go with the rest of his life.