Road to Recovery - The Matt Kelley Story

JACKSON, TN (WMC-TV) - "I heard a loud noise. Within seconds, the lights went off, our ears popped from the pressure of the tornado, and the building began to fall on us."

Matt Kelley was upstairs in his dorm room at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee when a tornado struck in February of 2008.

He ran downstairs to try to make it out, but the building collapsed on top of him.

"It was a pretty scary experience, not knowing exactly if your going to make it out alive or not, or if I'm going to see my parents again - see my friends again," Kelley said.

Buried beneath 25 feet of debris, Matt didn't know whether or not he would ever make it out alive.

"Along with my legs being crushed by tons of concrete, and them being bent back behind me, I had a huge beam pressing down on the back of my neck, pressing my head down towards my stomach," he said.

Amazingly, Matt never lost consciousness during the nearly five hours he was trapped beneath the rubble.

"After them pulling me out before midnight, I remember them putting me on a stretcher and put me in the ambulance," he said. "I began to black out pretty quick."

When he woke up, Matt was on a ventilator, unable to speak or walk.  His legs were crushed, his muscles weakened from lack of circulation.

"I can remember laying in that ICU bed in the hospital and seeing how large my legs had gotten from the swelling," he said.

Today, the scars on his legs look like shark bites.  Matt has been through five surgeries, and hours of physical therapy, to rebuild his strength.  Now, he's back in class, and able to walk again.

"I've had to adjust to allow more time in the mornings to get up early for classes to allow more time to get ready," he said.

Matt enjoys class time, but loves his time on the golf course even more.  A numb left foot forces Matt to make some adjustments to his golf swing, but it doesn't stop him.

"I have to work out everyday," he said. "(I) keep pushing myself.  My goal is to walk 18 holes again."

Golfing buddy Mills Hamaguchi is proud to call Matt a friend.

"I look at what he's had to deal with in the last half a year and it inspires me to suck it up," Hamaguchi said. "You take everything he's done and he has a smile on his face everyday.  I look up to him - a lot."

After a summer of struggle, Matt says his purpose in life NOW is to witness to others looking for purpose in their own lives.

"I'm not going to say I'm glad it happened, but a lot of good came from it, and a lot of people were touched through it by God, and that's all that matters," he said.

  • Click here to visit a blog of Matt's recovery
  • Click here to visit Union University's website
  • Click here for information on how to donate to Union University
  • Click here to watch a recent Golf Central story about Matt

Click here to send an email to Justin Hanson.