By Tracy Smith
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Facing death was the last thing Philip Gregg anticipated on his drive home from Wegmans.
The then 32-year-old Nottingham man was coming home with a car full of groceries when he saw the black Ford pickup truck cross the center line on Mountain Road in Joppa. In a split-second decision, he maneuvered as well as he possibly could before being struck.
Pinned in the wreckage, in and out of consciousness, he remembers thinking, “I know I’m bleeding out. I know I’m going to die.”
The accident that occurred that sunny afternoon in August 2013 changed his life in ways his service in Iraq and Afghanistan did not. Gregg, a civilian who was with a government agency, had worked closely with military personnel. He had witnessed death and even suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
But it was here at home, in the middle of a mundane task, that his life was most jeopardized. It was the aftermath of a car accident that made all of his previous goals seem to drift away.
“The onset of this trial was sudden and immersive,” said Gregg, who currently works for Northrop Grumman as a systems engineer. “Suddenly everything else in our lives was swept away like a tidal wave wrecking a small island.”
Pain is his constant companion, greeting him the moment he wakes each day and accompanying him on every single task.
It physically hurts to stand in place, and he can’t remember a time when stairs were not a big deal.
He knows that if he tosses a ball with his 4-year-old son Andrew or plays with his 1-year-old daughter Evie, it will likely wipe him out for the day.
Gregg’s wife, Lisa, says his fluctuating pain and energy levels are often at the center of their lives, dictating how everything else goes. She feels guilty taking time for herself because she understands the physical demands her absence puts on Gregg when he is left to care for their two children.
“It is challenging to have the constant variable of Philip’s physical state,” Lisa Gregg said. “We wish people had an inkling of that and quit imagining that things are back to the old normal. That won’t ever be.”
Since Philip no longer needs a cane to walk, others assume he is a typical 35-year-old healthy male. Yes, the physical scars still show. But no one sees what is happening internally.
“Most seniors seem to have more pep than I do,” Gregg said. “It seems like I aged 35 years in one horrible day.”
Lu Valle will never forget that Monday afternoon. She left work early and remembers it being a beautiful, clear day.
“I was behind the dump truck that was behind Philip,” Valle said. “The dump truck slammed on the breaks and it sounded like an explosion. All you could see were pieces flying.”
The impact forced his Toyota Corolla 100 feet off the side of the road down an embankment, according to the Maryland State Police accident report.
Valle has a background in critical care and her training forced her to go into what she describes as “automatic pilot.” Running down to his car, she recalls wondering how they were going to get him out because he was wrapped in metal.
“When I saw him in the car, pinned, slumped over the steering wheel, he was the color of a sheet of paper,” the 51-year-old Bel Air resident said. “If he was going to die or if he was dead, I didn’t want him to be alone.”
Opening the passenger side, she reached in to see if he was breathing. She was surprised when she felt a pulse.
“I will never forget screaming out, ‘He’s alive. Call 911. We need a chopper and we need the jaws of life,’” Valle said.
It took the team of emergency workers about two hours to extricate Gregg from the vehicle, Valle recalled. He was then flown by State Police Medevac helicopter to shock trauma.
Every now and then, she sees Philip’s face in her mind. She remembers his blue eyes and how calm he was. And she is amazed that he didn’t suffer any internal injuries.
“You can’t tell me that’s not divine,” Valle said. “I don’t care if you don’t believe. If you saw what I saw, there is no other explanation.”
No one expected that he would live, much less walk again and have use of his hands. In fact, his surgeons were unable to provide a timeline for recovery, simply because there aren’t enough people who survive crashes like this with the multiple injuries he endured.
Gregg understands that the details of the accident are interesting to others and he believes that it was a miracle that he survived.
It’s true that Andrew will always run faster than his father and Evie will not get piggyback rides from her daddy. But despite this reality, the Greggs try to embrace all that they still have. On the anniversary of the accident this year, they all went to Longwood Gardens together.
“We choose to celebrate the day as a family, reflecting on God’s faithfulness,” Lisa Gregg said.
It’s a new normal, but Gregg accepts that this is his life now.
“It’s a good life,” Gregg said. “It is a hard life. It has taken me 35 years to reach the point where I do not see a contradiction in those statements. Every day, week, month, and year will have different challenges and different blessings.”