Fifty years ago this summer, he began his life-changing journey

It happened as if it were yesterday. August 19, 1970, a Wednesday.  I was 18 years old fresh out of […]

50 years ago today

It happened as if it were yesterday. August 19, 1970, a Wednesday. 

I was 18 years old fresh out of high school when I borrowed a co-worker’s motorcycle. 

The motorcycle was a 250 Ducati and I got onto it as if I was late for a hot date. 

From my father’s gas station on 11th and Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, I sped down 10th Street to I-35W and then to Lake Street. Then I headed west. 

But little did I know, two miles away heading east was a drunk driver. 

As I crossed Hennepin Avenue and approached the intersection of Lake and James, my world turned upside down when the drunk driver turned into my lane. 

With no time to stop, I squeezed the brakes and everything turned into slow motion. 

It took me less than a second to hit his car, but it seemed like minutes, long enough for me to say, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” 

The impact threw me over the handlebars and headfirst into the car’s roofline, when everything went black, I saw stars, and heard nothing. 

It was at this very moment my neck broke, completely severing my spinal cord and leaving me a quadriplegic paralyzed from the shoulders down. (Minnesota had a mandatory helmet law in 1970.) 

Moments later, I woke up in the middle of the intersection flat on my back with the crowd of strangers standing around me. I heard myself saying, “Is my bike OK? Is my bike OK?” while a man kneeling down by my head was trying to take my helmet off. 

The pain in my neck was excruciating. It felt like a hand grenade had just blown up inside. 

Minutes later, the ambulance arrived. The paramedics rolled me onto a backboard and then put me in the ambulance. I remember complimenting the paramedic on his black, bushy mustache, as I’m sure he was saying to himself, “Keep on talking kid, keep on talking!” 

There at General Hospital in downtown Minneapolis, a team of doctors and nurses were waiting. They immediately cut off all my clothes and then shaved the hair off the top my head. 

Next, came a man in a white lab coat with an electric drill in his hand. Without a word, he started drilling a hole in the top of my head. That’s when I passed out and woke up in the ICU with a Catholic priest giving me the Last Rites. 

When he saw that my eyes were open, he walked up to me and said, “Donald, you’ve got a free ticket to Heaven.” To which I said, “Father, can I have a rain check?” 

With a loss for words, the priest backed up and my 42-year-old father stepped into my view, when I said, “Well Dad, I got a haircut!” 


That Was the First Day of My 50- Year Journey. 

A journey filled with ups and downs and joys and sadness. But also, a journey filled with PEOPLE. Wonderful people, to whom I want to say, “THANK YOU” who came to my side to care for me, to cheer me up, and to be my arms and legs. Not to mention, Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, who gave me the ability to forgive the drunk driver. 

Sometimes, we have to go to the place most resisted,
To discover that, which we never thought existed!

Don Bania

Paralyzed with Happiness,
Don Bania

Editor’s note: Bania was the 10th resident to move into the Courage Center Residence in Golden Valley in March 1976. He has since become an accomplished artist and community volunteer. One of Bania’s biggest projects is Wheels for the World, an organization that collects and refurbishes used wheelchairs and ships them overseas to people in developing countries. He lives in Rogers. 

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