Bill Chantelois says losing his legs in a snowmobile accident was the best thing that ever happened to him. The Osceola, Wis. resident told me how an accident that almost killed him resulted in a new life filled with joy. Here he shares his story:
On Feb. 28, 2009, I woke up thinking like I usually did on the weekend. It was party time! Although I had believed in God all my life and attended church, I wasn’t living like God wanted me to. During the week I was the hard-working 49-year-old owner of the hardware store in a small, Wisconsin town, a community member who was always willing to pitch in and help at the local food shelf or with a local event, and a husband and father of three.
But the weekends were my time. I liked to drink and had started drinking as soon as I could get away with it. It didn’t matter to me that my wife and kids were hurt by my drinking habit. I didn’t want to give up control of this part of my life. I wanted to be happy, and I didn’t think giving the weekends to God would help. For me, happiness meant snowmobiling with my buddies from one bar to the next and drinking along the way.
That was the plan for Feb. 28, 2009, and that’s what I’d ended up doing. We’d been drinking and snowmobiling for about seven hours that Saturday. I didn’t know it then, but by 7 p.m. I was already above the legal blood alcohol limit. The snow was coming down like crazy, and I was racing my friend when I lost control of my snowmobile and careened off the country trail. The last thing I remembered from that night was standing in the middle of that dark trail, drunk, dazed and bewildered. My friend saw the other snowmobile speeding towards me, but apparently I never did.
In a coma
The next thing I knew, it was 45 days later. I’d been hit by that snowmobile and had almost died. I’d spent 31 days in a coma, 15 days under heavy sedation, and had already been through multiple surgeries. I was in a wheelchair at a hospital, and my wife Jill was taking me outside for the first time since the accident. It was a beautiful spring day, and Jill was holding my hand.
“What happened to my legs?” I asked.
“I’ve already told you that 10 times,” she said.
My short-term memory hadn’t been working too well, so this was the first time the information stayed with me. Both of my legs were gone – they’d had to amputate them. I’d also lost the sight in one eye, fractured my back, and had numerous other injuries. After Jill told me what happened, I cried, but only because I knew I’d done this to myself. I didn’t blame anyone – especially not God.
God showed up
From the first day I had my wits about me in that hospital, I knew God was there. I also knew that I’d been delivered from alcohol. God grabbed me the minute I woke up: It was powerful. His message for me was loud and clear: “I’m going to give you one more chance.”
And I took it! I’d turned 50 while I was in the coma, and I figured I didn’t have too many chances left. People ask if I was in despair about losing my legs or angry, but I didn’t feel any grudge. Everyone at the hospital can vouch for me: I had a good spirit about the whole thing.
That’s because God gave me another chance with my family and with my children. He gave me another chance to live. Before I was holding back from God. I thought I wouldn’t be happy if God was in total control of my life. But that is so far off! I wish I could make people understand how much happier my life is now. The accident is the best thing that happened to me.
People come into the hardware store all the time now and ask how I’m doing with my new prosthetic legs. “How are your legs, Bill?” they say.
“My legs? They’re perfect!” I tell them.
I don’t even think about my legs. Sure, I had to work hard in physical therapy. During the first two months after I left the hospital, I’d had 20 doctor visits, and after that, physical therapy sessions three times a week for six months. I had to use a wheelchair until I was healed enough to be fitted for prosthetic legs, but I’ve been walking since October 2009. I’m just glad God gave me another day. I know it was because people were praying for me.
An answer to prayer
After I finally woke up after the accident, my wife showed me the Internet site where she was keeping everyone updated about my progress at the hospital. Throughout my 63 days there, there were about 100,000 hits to the site, and comment after comment from people on the guest book saying they were praying for me. The whole town of Osceola, Wis. was filled up with prayers! People in town even organized a huge fundraiser for me after I was home. My wife had been praying too – for years. Feb. 28, 2009 was the worst day of her life, but it was also the answer to her prayers.
“Right up to the day of the accident, I prayed that God would make something happen so you would stop drinking and partying,” she told me after the accident.
I smiled and gave her a fist bump. “It worked!”
My angel of a wife had been by my side for 63 days in the hospital, praying for me, letting everyone know the ups and downs of my medical journey, and managing the bookwork for the hardware store. She hadn’t given up on me during all those years, and now we never have a day where we don’t get along. I have God’s love in me, and everything is different.
Now when I wake up on the weekends, I don’t think about drinking and parties. My thoughts are the same as any other day of the week. I’m so thankful that Jesus gave me another chance, and this time, I want live by God’s rules. Each and every day I pray, “Thank you Lord for this day! Thank you for every breath I breathed during the night! Hallelujah! And don’t let me miss any opportunity to help another person and to talk about you.”