True to his Texas roots, Justin Martin has grown a new, stronger outlook on life from a tiny cocklebur.
It's been nearly four years since the accident that came so close to taking Martin's life. That May evening in 2007 he was driving down a rural road when a cow appeared and he lost control of his vehicle. The car rolled so furiously Martin was ejected.
"My pelvis was broken, the ligaments were torn out of one knee and this arm was torn up," he said, pushing up his left sleeve to reveal a wide scar more than 1 foot long. "The surgeons said if the cuts had been just a half inch to the left, I would have lost the use of the arm."
What followed was a series of surgeries to undo the damage, then physical therapy. After several months, however, a painful, marblelike lump developed on Martin's left arm. In June 2008, the decision was made to surgically remove it for biopsy.
"Later they told me that the doctors in the room that day had a total of 100 years experience and none of them had ever seen anything like what they found," Martin said.
The lump, it turned out, was a plant. Evidently a cocklebur had become embedded in the deep cuts on Martin's arm the night of the accident; it eventually migrated to a spot about 6 inches away.
Even more remarkably, because it was close enough to the surface of the skin to get light, the seed had sprouted.
"They said it didn't have any color because there wasn't enough light for it to make chlorophyll," said Martin, who was anesthetized during the procedure. "I wish they could have saved it for me."
Every day since then, the 26-year-old Wichitan said, has been faced with a new appreciation for life and its many blessings. There has, however, been a unique reminder of his extraordinary extraction.
First the story of Martin's sprouted bur made its way into the United Kingdom's 2010 edition of "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" It next appeared in one of Ripley's single-panel cartoons in the San Antonio Express-News.
Now the tale has been featured in "Ripley's Believe it or Not! Special Edition 2011." Published by Scholastic, the book is directed at younger readers and full of other odd facts.
Martin is featured on the same page with case where doctors found botfly larva under a man's scalp and another about the removal of a giant roundworm from a Kenyan child.
Gross, but, to grade-schoolers, a must-read.
Today Martin, the son of Teresa Pinkman and Bruce Martin, says he's back on track for the plan he had the night of the accident, going to culinary school. He has become a dedicated community volunteer, including delivering Meals on Wheels.
"I've realized how important it is to give back to folks who are less fortunate. And I've come to understand how something like this can be a new beginning rather than an end."