The life of Sean English Jr. changed in an instant on April 2, 2017 when he chose to become a good samaritan. That’s when the Christian high school junior and his parents pulled over on a busy freeway to help free victims trapped in a roll-over accident.
“I was on my way to church with my family. I was going to sing in the choir,” he says.
“We saw a car in front of us flip over. So we stopped. My parents got out of the car and they went to assist first. And I was dialing 911 in the backseat and I went up to assist. And I got out of my car, and I looked to my right and I saw a doctor.”
The doctor was Cynthia Ray, a local physician who had also stopped to help the five teenage passengers in the jeep. “Obviously we’re waiting for the first responders, but I kind of felt a little bit more reassured because there was a professional right there,” he says.
Before Sean and Cynthia could get to the jeep, another driver came around the bend and lost control—striking them both.
“I just look up and I saw the sky,” Sean says. “I thought I was dreaming. I didn’t know what was going on. The car actually ripped off my foot, and the only thing that they had left was my heel.”
Sean’s mother, Peggy, recounts the emotional few moments after impact. “He was awake. He was talking. He kept saying, ‘I have to sit up, help me sit up.’ And I knew he couldn’t sit up. If we saw his foot, he would go into further shock. So I kind of pinned him down.”
“She said ‘You’re going to be okay.’ and I said ‘Okay,’ Sean remembers. “And she sang this childhood song that would put me to sleep. And you see on the movies, the person’s dying and then they sing a song to put them at ease so when they’re passing they’re relaxed and ready, and I wasn’t ready to go. So I was kind of scared, worried.”
“I was afraid he wasn’t going to make it,” says Sean’s dad, Sean Sr. “I Started praying immediately. I asked to take his place. I knew that wasn’t possible, but I still asked.”
First responders arrived and attended to all the passengers in the jeep—who had minor injuries. Both Sean and Dr. Ray were rushed to Henry Ford Hospital.
Tragically, Ray, a well-known and popular physician at Henry Ford Medical Center in Detroit, passed away days later.
“It really hits deep. That woman lived 43 years, I think it was, and I was the last person she talked to,” Sean adds.
“I remember looking around, like I woke up from a nap, but I was in this hospital room with all these beeps and all these nurses and all these people. And I had this breathing tube down my mouth. I got a notepad and then the first five questions I asked were, Is dad okay? Is this real life? Am I paralyzed? What’s going on? And can someone itch my forehead?” he says.
Eventually, Sean stabilized as doctors explored options for his crushed right leg. His other leg as well as pelvis were also broken.
“They said there’s a chance we could get this half foot prosthetic, but then there’s a chance we might have to amputate it into a below knee amputation,“ Sean says.
“Sports were my life. I was eight seconds away from breaking the school record in the mile. And I was just really hoping I could get the attention of a premier D1 scholarship,” Sean says reflecting on the doubts he had about his future. “ That was really difficult,” Sean says.
His father shared how they began to research the options. “We would do all the research. Because this was all foreign to us. None of us were medical professionals. And then we’d consult Sean. We’d give him all the information,” he said.
Sean Jr. began thinking of the future and if he could handle it. “I said, this is the youngest I’m ever gonna be. Might as well do it now while my bones and all these things can work in my favor and help me heal.”
Sean did lose his leg and received a prosthetic. He then slowly began adapting to his new way of life.
“Six hours of therapy for about two months definitely wasn’t fun, but it was reassuring because every day I was getting stronger, every day I was getting better. The hard part was the prosthetic, learning how to walk on this, learning how to trust that my ankle, my foot, will be there and learning how to use my hips and thighs instead of my ankle and my calves.”
Sean, who had been a Christian since the age of 12, knew that his faith in God would sustain him. “I kind of trusted in God at that point,” he says. “Whatever happens is in God’s hands. I found out pretty quickly that I need to talk to people, no matter what I’m going through, no matter how strong I think I am, I need help. I need other people, whether that’s my mom, whether that’s a therapist.”
Peggy adds, “It was incredible to see how he handled the whole recovery. Friends from school, they would come and the first time they saw him they saw that leg and you could tell that half the leg was gone, they would, you know, break down and cry. And it flipped to Sean being the one comforting them. And he used that–he used his sense of humor.”
Sean later found out the young man who hit him was driving under the influence of marijuana. Sean was angry at first, but ultimately chose forgiveness–something he learned at home, church and his parochial school.
“I don’t condone what he did. What he did was illegal and morally incorrect,” Sean says. “But I support him moving forward and I hope he can see the light of God. I thought, if I’m holding this grudge and I go into court guns blazing, yelling at this guy, ‘Why did you do this?’ that’s not going to help him. And I just kind of said, ‘Listen if you need help, I’m here.”
As he began to use his new prosthetic leg, he set two goals for himself: to dance at his senior prom, and to run one final 400-meter race. “I thought this was a bit of a stretch for him,” his dad says. I was very hesitant to say, ‘Hey let’s do this.’”
“The scripture says plenty of things about forgiveness and how we should act, and the way that Jesus would,” Sean Jr. says. “And I really take that to heart. What would Jesus do? I’m not happy with what happened but it’s how I move forward. Cause what happened is in the past. And I don’t want that to influence my present or my future.”
Sean’s sister Meghan adds, “His attitude throughout this whole entire thing was never like why ‘God, why me?’ It was ‘okay, what am I going to do about this now?’ Sean’s recovery and strength has shown me that his ability is stronger than his disability.”
His mother adds, “Yes, he lost his leg, but he did not lose his life. Dr. Ray lost her life. He tries to honor her memory by doing good, by helping others.”
The sacrifice of that doctor weighs on Sean’s mind and he is ever conscious of it.
“I want this story to help people. I just hope the pain that I went through can help other people say, ‘If he can do it, then I can do it.”
This spring Sean attended and even danced at his senior prom. He also walked across the stage at graduation from Detroit U-D Jesuit High School in May.