- David Greuner is a 46-year-old cardiac surgeon who fell from a seven-story condo building in 2022.
- According to statistics, only 5% of people who fall from such a height will survive.
- This is Greuner’s story, as told to Lauren Crosby Medlicott.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with David Greuner, the managing director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates. It has been edited for length and clarity.
The last thing I remember before falling off the rooftop of my seven-story condo building in Miami was going to get my phone that had fallen over the balcony edge. But I slipped on some wet tiles and fell seven stories to the street below.
I found out later that my downstairs neighbor had seen me fly past his window and phoned the ambulance immediately.
For 10 days following the fall, I was in a coma. When I was taken into surgery, I was told I died three times on the table.
I had extensive injuries
When I eventually woke up, all I can recall is pain. Just taking a breath was excruciating. I fractured 19 bones, had bilateral collapsed lungs, shattered my shoulder blades, and tore my liver. My left hand was basically cut in half — I think I must have tried to grab onto a tree branch to break my fall. I was coughing up this black stuff, probably old blood, and remember it smelling really bad.
Doctors told me I would probably be in the hospital for a year to recover from my extensive injuries, which usually kill 95% of patients. But I wasn’t willing to accept that. That first week I was awake, I remember being pretty angry about the whole situation and was frustrated with how the medical staff was treating me. They kept telling me to calm down and take baby steps to recovery, but I just refused. I spent a lot of time arguing with the nurses when they told me to take opiates for the pain, which I didn’t want to do.
Against everyone’s expectations, I left the hospital after only five weeks. My girlfriend at the time picked me up and took me back to my apartment, where I mainly rested in bed, occasionally stretching. I felt terrible, and the pain seemed worse than before. I knew it had to get worse before it could get better.
The accident made me stop and reevaluate things in my life
Those weeks in my Miami apartment were a reflective time for me. As a cardiac surgeon with a hero complex, I hadn’t slowed down for 15 years, always moving from one task to another, working and helping others. It was the first time I had stopped and had time to evaluate my life. It was the start of a dramatic change that led me to be more introspective.
I got back to my New York City apartment a few weeks after having been released from the hospital. I started doing Pilates-type exercises in my home gym, essentially becoming my own physical therapist. I didn’t feel like moving, but I knew I had to; otherwise, I knew my insides would scar, and I’d have movement limitations in the future.
A lot of people were telling me to calm down, but I’m a proponent of mind over matter and kept going, certain my work would pay off for my long-term recovery.
During those early months, I narrowed down my social circle significantly. I had never really needed anyone since becoming an adult, but that fall had been cataclysmic. I was literally broken, physically and psychologically. I’d hoped that the people I had helped for years would help me in my moment of need, but many didn’t. Those few that were there when I needed them were the people I have kept close.
There were definitely periods of despair over the past year, especially early on. I blamed the world and felt sorry for myself. Before things could change, I had to accept myself and what had happened. Once I did that, I was able to start rebuilding.
Life now looks simpler than it did before my fall. It’s less extravagant, filled only with the people and activities that are really important to me.
I feel better now — both physically and mentally — than I did before my fall. I’m working, boxing, and cycling again. For me, it’s all about mind over matter. My mind was the greatest limitation in my recovery, as with any injury. But over the past year, I’ve pushed myself to make small improvements, and it’s paid off.