Peaceful green and white lights spun around. Eight hours of surgery were supposed to determine Cody Gardner’s fate, but he believes he was given an option.
A voice came out of nowhere.
“You have a choice. You can either come home or go back and have a second chance.
You’re one of the lucky ones.”
He chose to live.
On the night of Aug. 6, Gardner’s life changed forever. He went to a cookout with some friends, had some drinks, and they all parted ways. Gardner went home, and then got into his vehicle to go to another friend’s house.
On his way there, he hit a tree.
The next morning, he woke up with broken ribs, compound fractures in his right femur and ankle, severe cuts to the top of his head, a compound injury in his left ankle and severe damage to his liver, spleen and aorta.
“It was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life. I hurt my family and my friends. I feel guilty every single day. Every single morning when I wake up and put pants on I will be reminded,” Gardner said.
Perhaps the most devastating injury he sustained was in his right foot. The main artery was dead, and he chose to amputate from the mid shin.
In a personal story Gardner wrote and shared with his friends and family, he is quoted saying, “I could try and live with a non-functioning leg or I could have it amputated and eventually get a prosthetic in the future. I chose to have it amputated because I felt that this would let me be able to live my life as close to normal as possible.”
When Gardner was a Castleton student, he touched many lives at the university. Business professor Peg Richards was one of them
“I think he is a joy to have in the classroom. He does something to a classroom that makes it the best one that semester. Every teacher wants him in class,” Richards said.
When Richards learned of Gardner’s accident, her initial reaction was to call every hospital around to see how he was doing. When she finally found where he was, all she wanted to know was how soon she could see him.
“I went up to see him the week before school started. I thought he was really good. He was really banged up. More than I thought he would be. He’s like most people – he never thought anything like this would happen. He is lucky that he’s alive,” Richards said.
In a day, Gardner had up to 30 visitors. A GoFundMe page was created to help pay for the hospital expenses, and many people have donated.
“I never realized how many people would come out to support me. It’s so humbling,”
Among those visitors was Castleton English professor, Bill Wiles. Wiles taught Gardner in his Intro to Lit class, and has remained close to him ever since.
Wiles mentioned that when Gardner gave his famous, spirited tours, he would often stop and chat with the prospective students.
“What has impressed me so far is his positive attitude. Even after his injuries, he still maintains a positive outlook,” Wiles said.
Gardner has tried to maintain his notorious positivity, but as with anyone who has suffered major trauma, he has gained perspective.
“Littlest things in life can be taken away and those are the things you miss. I’m 23 years old and I can’t go for a drive right now. You take everything for granted. It’s the funniest little things that bother me the most. I feel like a little kid again,” Gardner said.
Gardner is considering sharing his story with others, and may start with some classes at Castleton. He reached out to Dennis Proulx, the dean of students, to discuss this possibility.
“Castleton is always interested in helping alums change the world. One of Cody’s gifts is presentation. He was a wonderful tour guide. He has the type of personality that shines through a group,” Proulx said.
But perhaps it would be better to start on a smaller scale.
“I would love to have him come to class. Perfecting a message that he wants to deliver to people. With this story, he’s even more inspiring. It’s a great place to start,” Richards said.
In light of everything that has happened, Gardner has some advice for others going forward.
“Don’t think that it can’t be you. If you have something you want to achieve, then go for it right now. Don’t overlook anyone that might mean the world. I’m cheesy and Hallmark now,” Gardner said.