Young at Heart group shares story of "miracle" survivor

It may be difficult for some to understand why the seniors at Front Street Baptist Church are full of laughter and song.

At their most recent Young at Heart meeting, a few dozen of the Statesville, North Carolina seniors joked about their age and sang hymns of praise with a visiting musician.

Nearly seven months ago, the group lost six members in a fiery bus crash with a semi on I-40 in Jefferson County. The other 12 seniors were hurt, many of them seriously injured. They were traveling home from an annual retreat in Gatlinburg.

During the drive, one of the couples, Marvin and Sandy Boyer, split up so Sandy could lay down in the back seat. Marvin stayed up front to talk to a friend.

"When the accident started I realized we were in trouble. I realized the tire had blown. I heard it blow," Sandy, 67, said.

The blowout caused the bus to cross the median, hit the semi-truck, and burst into flames.

After flipping on its side, the bus eventually skidded to a stop and the group started calling out to each other.

"I heard Sandy calling for someone to get a fire out. I think that was the most afraid I was. When these fumes were overwhelming us. And Sandy said, 'Lord, I know you didn't let us survive this far to let us be taken in fire,'" said survivor, Wanda Martin.

First responders arrived, put out the flames and began pulling the survivors off the bus.

"I looked around the bus and I only counted six," Sandy said.

At that moment, Sandy saw only six survivors out of the 18 people on board. Her husband, Marvin, wasn't one of them.

"Marvin was not to be found. I started asking for him as soon as the bus stopped. It was about 10 after 2 and I didn't know about Marvin's whereabouts until 8:30 that night," she said.

Sandy's daughters, Marvin's step-daughters, dropped everything and drove across the state to be with their mother. When they started asking questions to give their mother a report on his condition, the medical staff told them they had no one by that name.

Hours later, the staff asked if Sandy's daughters could help them identify a surgery patient. The man had head wounds so massive, they made him unrecognizable.

"My oldest daughter looked down at his hands. And he has hands that play the piano beautifully. And his hands are a different shape. She looked down and said, 'That's Marvin! That's him that's his hands!' and they presented her with his ring," Sandy said, tears rolling down her cheeks.

In the chaos, Marvin had been misidentified as the bus driver, Randy Morrison. He died on scene.

Sandy was grateful she found her husband but doctors didn't have good news.

"He had 18 massive wounds in his body. He had four wound vacs, two chest tubes, stomach tubes. He was on a respirator. He had eight IVs going. He was on dialysis. A doctor told me in the vegetative state that he was in and the fact that he would be on dialysis the rest of his life, they did not give him much hope for survival. That just made me even stronger because God had something in store for him," Sandy said.

After three weeks in a coma and another five months in rehab centers, Marvin is back where he wants to be, attending every meeting and choir practice and leading the group in prayer.

"We thank the Lord all the time that he's showing his grace over and over and over again," Marvin said.

"He's our real miracle. He is," said Martin.

Marvin was spared some of the heartache because he doesn't remember any of the crash or even the weeks that followed.

"We have decided that this is a God thing," Sandy said.

But Sandy and several others on the bus that day do remember.

"We will never get over it. There are images that come to mind everyday no matter how busy we get," Martin said.

VIDEO: Part 2- Bus crash survivors say thanks to East TN

Still there's a sense of peace at Front Street Baptist church: peace in knowing they have their faith and each other.

Many of the survivors are still recovering from their physical injuries as well as emotional pain. But they have nothing but praises about the care they received from strangers and medical staff here in East Tennessee.

"They came into our room with gifts, encouragement, prayer shawls, prayer blankets, prayer quilts, they brought us books that were in memory of someone that they loved that they lost. Even the family who lost their son in the accident brought us gifts. We were just taken a back by that," Sandy said.

A couple even offered up their home for Sandy to stay in while Marvin recovered in the hospital.

"God was all over Tennessee and God was all over Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, North Carolina. What a privilege," said Beverly Hillard, Front Street Baptist Church member of 52 years. She wasn't on the bus that day but witnessed the outpouring of support that followed.

VIDEO: Full interview with Young at Heart group


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