TWINSBURG -- When a train accident this fall left 23-year-old Mark Kalina Jr. without his legs, he didn't expect to survive.
His surprise at waking up in a hospital hours after the accident quickly turned to relief, he said Dec. 20 from his Oakbrook Circle home where he's recuperating, and he's been happy to be alive ever since.
A 2008 Twinsburg High School graduate and varsity soccer player, Kalina was a senior engineering student at Ohio State University until the Oct. 13 incident in Columbus.
Kalina's mother, Wendy Callahan, described the tragic event as it was relayed by her son in the Wexner Mecical Center of OSU.
As he was walking home not far from the Buckeye campus, Kalina cut through a field and was attempting to walk around a train stopped on the tracks.
That's when a chain of unforeseeable, harrowing events began.
After slipping on some gravel, Kalina snagged his shirtsleeve on a train car -- right as the train started moving again. He soon was being dragged along by the accelerating train.
Using his free arm to grab a ladder on the train car that had him snagged, Kalina struggled to free himself. A sharp turn jarred him from the ladder and he landed on a car connector. Before Kalina could pull his legs up onto the connector, they were caught by the wheels and he was pulled under the train, where he lost his legs, in addition to a pinkie finger.
Callahan said her son had no choice but to cover his head with his hands, stay away from the rails, and wait it out as the train rushed inches over his head.
Knowing that he was injured but unaware of the severity, Kalina called 911 after the train had passed. A medical helicopter spotted him from above and he was taken by ambulance to the Wexner Medical Center at OSU. He arrived at around 2 a.m.
"We still don't know where he was [initially] but he had been riding the train for a while," Callahan said. "When he was waiting for somebody to rescue him, he said he made peace with himself. He knew there was no way he was making it, so when he woke up at 5:30 in the morning [later that day], he couldn't believe he was alive -- he didn't even care that he didn't have legs. And that's how he's been ever since."
Kalina spent 12 days in Wexner's intensive care unit before being released to the center's physical rehabilitation program.
He was cleared to transfer himself from his bed to his wheelchair after the first day -- a testament to a spirited determination that Kalina has maintained since.
"That rehabilitation was supposed to take two to three weeks and I powered through it," Kalina said. "Once I got in there, it was mostly upper-body strength and I worked out before (the accident) so I still had lots of strength in my upper body."
Having "powered through" his initial rehabilitation, Kalina was home by this past November.
He currently lives with his mother and stepfather, and his father regularly visits and takes him to appointments. Kalina said a support system of family, friends, even internet acquaintances helps to keep his spirits high.
"My aunts and uncles are always around and I have a bunch of friends from high school who come over and hang out," Kalina said. "Then there's Facebook. So many people are following my rehab page and also leaving words of encouragement on my Facebook page as well."
The Mark Kalina Jr. Rehab page on Facebook is a source of community support for Kalina, where the public can voice praise and encouragement for Kalina's struggle.
Supporters can even visit www.kalinaware.com, an online store that sells clothing and other merchandise with Kalina-themed logos.
Despite losing both legs and the challenges of his recovery, Kalina credits his strength of spirit and unique optimism to the near-fatal experience.
"I thought I was going to die when I was laying on the tracks," Kalina said. "Then I woke up in the hospital and I couldn't be happier to be awake. I lost both of my legs but I'm happy to give those up to still be alive. Everyone's just been so great, coming by and helping my family out, helping me out. With such a great support system, how can I not be positive? Plus, what is negativity going to get me? It's not going to get me my legs back."
Kalina is currently being fitted for prosthetic legs, a medical expense that Callahan says will cost about $65,000 per leg. Though the recovery process and learning to walk again will be long and expensive, Kalina says he's ready to tackle the ordeal.
"I'm looking forward to it as a challenge," Kalina said. "They tell me not to be discouraged, 'you're going to mess up, it's going to take a while.' I'm ready for it to take a while and ready to put in the hard work, but it's also really exciting. I haven't walked in two months, and just getting on my feet -- both new feet -- with the parallel bars was really cool."
Undeterred, Kalina said his goal is to be self-sufficient once again, return to his education and start his career. Though his varsity soccer days may be behind him, Kalina is considering joining a regional handicap sports team to stay active.
"By April, which will be sixth months after my accident, I hope to be totally independent, exactly how I was ... just with a new pair of legs," Kalina said. "I want to get everything together so I can go back to school in the fall. I don't know if I'll be going back to Ohio State or maybe transferring up here so I'm closer to home where it's more comfortable.
"I won't go back to how I was before the accident, but I'll get pretty close."
Anyone wishing to donate to Kalina's medical costs can do so to the Mark Kalina Jr. Benevlent Fund, P.O. Box 2127, Hudson 44236.
Online donations can be made to http://fundraiser.com/campaigns/6NFM0.