Penn State alumnus Jay Rhodes’ said a life-threatening accident from his college years changed his life.
Twenty years later, he has returned to the town he nearly died in to give back to those who helped keep him alive.
The Daily Collegian reported on a 22-year-old man and Penn State student who was badly injured in a motorcycle accident in Philipsburg Sept. 8, 1993. The motorcycle had approached a turn too fast, causing the bike to hit some gravel and a stone wall, sending the bike in his direction.
The driver was airlifted to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he was put under critical condition. The injuries the driver sustained were vast.
Rhodes’ diaphragm was ripped in three places, the main vein that travels to the heart, the vena ceva, exploded and the right side of his liver was lost. The surgeons stopped counting at 10,000 stitches when they stitched the lower left side of his body together and his gall bladder was torn in half.
Rhodes was in a coma for 30 days and went into cardiac arrest 11 times. He received 300 pints of blood.
Twenty years later, Rhodes and his wife, Paula, have just returned to State College after many years of living in the Midwest with two boys in tow.
They moved back to Happy Valley to return to the place they said they love most, and to return to their roots.
The Rhodes returned to the State College area earlier this summer and opened Dickey’s Barbecue Pit on Aug. 8.
The said they couple opened the restaurant for a change of pace after working in megachurches in the Midwest for the last 15 years.
The day after the accident, then-sophomore Paula Haas, now Rhodes, said she was sitting in North Dining Commons reading the Collegian while she ate breakfast.
“I was so moved by the story,” Paula Rhodes said. “I sat there and prayed. I prayed for him, that God could heal him in some sort of way, and for his family as well.”
A year and a half later, while Paula was sitting in Eisenhower Chapel waiting for her friends to finish class in the Forum Building, she said she met the student from the accident — Jay Rhodes.
Jay Rhodes came to talk to her, and after talking to him, she said she realized that the student she had prayed for that one morning in North Dining Commons was the same man she was talking to now.
“I thought it was so weird, but that was what started us on a relationship where we finally got married,” Paula Rhodes said.
Soon after the accident and his recovery, Jay Rhodes wanted to give back to the community that had supported him while he was in the hospital.
“I had lost hundreds of pints of blood. My family had organized a few races like triathlons and some road races, with the entry to the races was to donate a pint of blood,” Jay Rhodes said. “So, I started working with the Red Cross and volunteering as a public works person. I had lost the maximum amount of blood and I wanted to give back.”
Meghan Daly , Class of 1998 and a friend of the Rhodes’, said she recalls hearing Jay’s story when he and Paula first started dating.
“He showed us all of his scars and I remember thinking how amazing it was that he survived,” Daly said.
Since his graduation from Penn State, Jay Rhodes went into the ministry, like he said he had planned to before his accident. He said he and his family have moved across the Midwest, serving in megachurches. He said he also joined the Army Reserves as a chaplain.
Jay Rhodes said the accident made him learn some things about human beings in a couple of ways.
“Life is extremely fragile. It is something that could be gone in just a matter of one breath, and it can be all over,” Rhodes said. “It made me realize that human beings are extremely resilient at the same time and can come through a lot of different things.”
Megan Caldwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828.
Follow her on Twitter @ca_megan.