A Fall Nearly Cost Him His Life ... But You Can't Keep This Man Down
by Tom Rademacher, Veteran Grand Rapids Press columnist and long-time Michigan Blood donor
It’s hardly a speck on even the largest of maps.
About two-thirds the length of a bowling alley.
Something an able-bodied person can walk in just a few seconds.
But it takes on huge significance if that 40 feet is the distance you’re falling.
Michael Riness is lucky to relate the experience as a survivor.
“I dropped like a rock,” he recalls. “There wasn’t a sound.”
What transpired immediately afterward, however, was anything but quiet.
No less than 23 highly trained rescuers sprang into action, all members of the National Ski Patrol, and every one the injured man’s friend.
Michael had been participating in a chair evacuation drill on October 7 of 2012 at a northern Michigan ski resort, and fell from the chairlift when the equipment that was supposed to lower him to safety was incorrectly rigged.
With no snow on the ground to soften the impact, Michael’s pelvis was fractured in five places. His right hip was shattered and had to be replaced. He broke six ribs, his right shoulder, his left wrist and three facial bones. Of his four limbs, only his left leg was unaffected.
“I did have a lot that went wrong, but it’s incredible what didn’t happen,” he says, grateful to be spared a serious neck or spinal injury.
Michigan Blood was especially glad that Michael was able to execute a full recovery. After all, he’s donated an astonishing 243 units of blood in his lifetime, and in a few months, he’ll be eligible again to continue donating, which he counts as one of his passions.
He’s also been an aggressive advocate on behalf of recruiting others to give blood and blood products, engaging everyone from his own family to the flock of worshippers he leads as part-time pastor of a Traverse City-area congregation.
The accident Michael survived is a bittersweet chapter in the life of a man who understands and appreciates the joys derived from both giving and receiving.
A native of Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula, Michael was the younger of two children born to a bricklayer and his wife who “lived in the middle of nowhere” deep within the Hiawatha National Forest.
“My mom drove us six miles just to meet the school bus,” he says, describing his home in the woods as miles from any other full-time resident, save a bachelor uncle who lived next door.
The family went without electricity until Michael was seven, and in all the years he attended elementary school in the Trout Lake School District, his largest class numbered just eight kids.
The family survived on his father’s work as a mason, but when the weather turned cold, he resorted to trapping.
Michael and 93 others – most of them the children of servicemen stationed at Kincheloe Air Force Base – graduated Rudyard High School in 1968, and he then went on to earn a degree in biology from Lake Superior State University.
The summer after college, Michael became a Christian, an about-face from the life he’d led as an atheist, taking after his parents.
He put his new beliefs into active practice, earning another degree in three years from Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, then signing on as campus minister and chaplain of the varsity basketball and football teams at Central Michigan University.
He worked there 15 years before switching careers and entering the gas & oil industry, where he works today.
Michael, 62, and wife Deborah, 57, wed during the spring of 1976, and in the next 24 years had nine children together – Jessica (36), Joshua (34), Jeanna (31), Jill (29), Jordan (25), JaLaura (22), Joanna (19), John (16), and Jane (13).
All the children were home-schooled (John and Jane are still), and virtually all the kids of age are avid blood donors.
Michael began giving blood at the age of 23, and would have started sooner, but he was a dedicated cross-country runner and didn’t weigh enough to qualify.
He’s worked hard throughout his life to connect others with the Michigan Blood center in Traverse City, about six miles east of where he and Deborah raised their family the last 13 years, in a sprawling blue Victorian on 40 acres along M-72 that boasts eight gables and plenty of gingerbread trim.
Michael’s job is interesting in that he’s an independent contractor who knocks on people’s doors and asks if they’d be interested in having their property explored for oil and gas.
Some Sundays, he still pastors for his Leelanau Christian Fellowship faithful, who number about 70.
But he’s never taken a break from revving it up for Michigan Blood. He’s personally sponsored numerous trips to the site on behalf of home-schooled children and their families. He’s also encouraged church members to donate regularly.
For Deborah, the campaigns are personal, tied to a miscarriage in 2002 during which she nearly died. She required transfusions, and 10 years later, Michael would need two units himself to replace blood lost internally when he suffered his fall.
He was in intensive care for six days, an orthopedic ward for another nine, and eventually endured months of thrice-a-week physical therapy.
Today, he suffers no after-effects, and is just as much a crusader for blood as ever, including the upcoming “Be Somebody … Bring Somebody” special event planned for August 27-30 at Michigan Blood centers statewide.
“I figure that at age 62, with no aches and pains and great overall health, I should donate because so many others can’t,” he says.
“I don’t like needles, either, but my discomfort with that is overwhelmed by my need to help people.
“I feel as though there will be a time when I won’t be able to donate. But until that time, why shouldn’t I?