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Norman Cook is a miracle man

No one in his family has ever made it to age 75 and 71-year-old Norman Cook came dangerously close to doing his part to keep that streak alive Sept. 20. Cook was on his Ford 4100 tractor spreading sawdust in the vegetable garden at his Etheridge Mill Road mini-farm when he saw something shiny out in a pasture a little after 6 p.m. He drove the tractor toward the object, opening a gate in the process. He got off the tractor and retrieved a vent cover from a camper trailer that apparently blew off when the remnants of Hurricane Irma blew through nine days earlier. He was taking the cover back toward the camper when he saw his tractor was moving. The tractor had a bucket on the front and a large box blade on the rear. ’I thought I had set the brake but I hadn’t. That was my big mistake. It was just creeping along. I got up beside it and tried to push the lever to lower the bucket which would have stopped it. That was another mistake,’ Cook related. The large rear wheel of the 58 horsepower Ford caught his foot and slowly drug him under. He remained conscious as the 9000-pound rig ran over him, crushing his leg, torso and head. Miraculously, he had his wits about him enough to kick away from the box blade and roll off to one side. ’That would have killed me for sure. I was in intense pain. I was blind. I knew I was hurt bad. I just started crawling toward the house,’ Cook related. Indeed, Cook had only a precious few minutes to live. He was bleeding out but this was not his first brush with death. He grew up on the family farm which was located where Atlanta Motor Speedway is today. ’I was born in a cotton field and I mean born in a cotton field. My mama was picking cotton and I popped out,’ Cook said. When he was a toddler, his father set fire to some brush to spook out a rabbit during a hunt. The fire got out of control and badly burned his legs. He has multiple sclerosis and has endured three heart attacks, two strokes and multiple other medical issues. Back in March he went to the aid of his neighbor Greg Bell, another MS sufferer, when his home caught fire. ’I was coming home from Griffin when I saw the smoke. I knew it was near my house. I got to the fire fast. He must have had a lot of ammunition in there because it was going off. Then I saw Greg with his walker trying to get away from the flames and knew I had to go in there,’ Cook said. He pulled his badly-burned neighbor from the fire but melting vinyl siding adhered to his abdomen, burning him severely. Bell died some 10 days later in the Grady burn unit. Cook, as his nature, survived. He has lived something of a charmed life. He still has the highest academic records at his schools in Henry County. His daddy sold the hardscrabble farm to the AMS developers. ‘He made enough money to put all his kids through college and then some,’ Cook said of his father. He went to Middle Tennessee State University, studied hard and got into the lucrative business of breeding Tennessee walking horses. ‘Obama killed that business with his taxes. The big show in Shelbyville used to be the largest in the world. Hardly anybody goes anymore. Nobody is investing in those horses,’ Cook related. He got into the auto parts business and had shops near the Atlanta airport and in Griffin which he sold. He has built three homes along Etheridge Mill Road. ‘I moved down here to Lamar County in 1969 and I love it here,’ Cook related. He is married to Anita, whom he wed in 2000. His oldest son, Shannon Cook, works at Delta and lives in Concord. Another son, Michael Cook, is a minister at Journey Church in Griffin. He has a brother, Tal, who is retired and lives in Barnesville. His body crushed by the tractor, Cook managed to crawl to a shed covering his chicken coop. He found a bowl with water for the chickens and attempted to wash the blood from his eyes so he could see. ’After awhile, I realized that my eyes had popped out of their sockets. I managed to push them back in and found my cell phone. I couldn’t read the numbers because the phone was covered in blood,’ Cook related. Forcing himself to concentrate, he remembered the numeral placement on the phone, correctly punched in 911 and hit send. The response was rapid. ’I don’t know where the first guy was but he had to be close. It seemed like he got here in about two minutes. He took one look at me and started screaming into his phone for a helicopter,’ Cook said. More first responders quickly followed. ‘It seemed like there were 100 of them out there,’ he added. His wife, Anita, was alerted when she saw the first rescuer running through the yard. ’They wouldn’t let her come down there. Later, I learned the firemen washed up all the blood so she would not see it,’ Cook said through tears. He was an extreme trauma case. Two ribs were protruding from his chest. He was bleeding from every bodily orifice. Amazingly, he never lost consciousness until he was sedated for surgery at the Macon Medical Center. ’The helicopter got here fast. I remember being in there. One person was leaning over me and giving me a transfusion. My blood was all over the visor of his helmet and all over the helicopter. They got me to the hospital in eight minutes. They maxed out that helicopter. It was smoking when we got there. They kept sticking gauze in holes but I kept on bleeding. When we landed my blood pressure was zero,’ Cook recalled. As he entered surgery, his odds for survival were poor. He also had the family barrier of 75 years staring him in the face. ’No Cook has ever made it to 75. My sister got to within a month of it and died. My brother is about a month away now and he is scared to death,’ he said. Cook spent the next nine days in the hospital, eight of them in ICU, but he survived again. His surgery took three and a half hours. He has metal plates on seven ribs and his leg is mangled but his pacemaker survived the mauling by the tractor. He is now walking, albeit gingerly, with a cane, having graduated from a walker. Back home and back in the race toward 75, he is very much aware that he is the beneficiary of a God-given miracle. He tears up when talking about the efforts of the first responders who saved his life and wants badly to meet and thank them. The Herald Gazette is working with fire chief Douglas Matthews to make that happen. It should make for quite the reunion.

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