The Miracle Man – Carmelo Calabro
Just over a year ago, Vaughan businessman Carmelo Calabro was nearly crushed to death on a job site. After a recovery that was nothing short of miraculous, he’s made it his mission to give back while always moving forward.
Police Constable William White thought the email was spam.
The sender was Carmelo Calabro — a name he didn’t recognize. And the subject line: “Thank God I’m Alive.”
It was only after he reluctantly clicked on it that he realized what, and who, this was. And he felt like he’d just received a message from beyond the grave.
The accident had happened five months earlier. On Sept. 25, 2015, Carmelo Calabro was working on a National Sports parking lot in Pickering, Ont. As the president of Vaughan-based asphalt company C. Valley Paving Ltd., the 59-year-old was used to the roar of his machines, but when his phone rang, he turned his back on the commotion to answer it. That’s when the six-ton skid-steer rolled over him.
By the time the driver heard the screams of the other workers it was too late. Calabro had been run over not once, but twice, with the truck’s rubber tracks crushing his body diagonally from his legs to his head. By the looks of him, his team thought he was gone.
It was around this time that P.C. White was in the area, working out of uniform on an investigation. Seeking a half-hour of solace, he drove into the nearest parking lot — National Sports’ — for some quiet time. As he emerged from his car, he was greeted with the farthest thing from it.
“I caught the tail-end [of the accident] and went straight to Carmelo, who was in really rough shape at the time,” recalls P.C. White, who serves on the Durham Regional Police Service. “I’ve been a police officer for 10 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Calabro was alive, but barely. P.C. White put a rush on an ambulance, and when the two paramedics arrived they realized they both needed to tend to Calabro in the back. P.C. White, who had never driven an ambulance before, took the wheel, and recalls narrowly avoiding plenty of accidents as he drove along the shoulder of the 401, rushing to the nearest hospital (he explains with a chuckle that it was only upon their blunt arrival that the vehicle literally crashed into the canopy of the E.R., injuring no one).
“I actually see life a lot different than I used to before. I appreciate everything. Everything has a meaning”
As Calabro’s broken body was whisked into the depths of the hospital, P.C. White was sure he’d never see the man again, convinced that it would take a miracle to survive such an injury. The doctors thought the same.
“I kind of surprised everybody,” says Calabro. It’s now a sunny autumn day at the business owner’s Kleinburg home where he lives with his wife Milena and young son (they also have four grown sons who work with Calabro). It’s a day not unlike the one that was almost his last, and the look in Calabro’s eyes says he’s vividly reliving that afternoon as he and Milena explain the events of his accident.
“When I got the call, I didn’t know what to think,” Milena says. “But when I saw him, despite the condition he was in, I knew in my heart that he wasn’t going to die. I knew it.”
After being swiftly delivered to Sunnybrook Hospital, Calabro underwent emergency surgeries to rebuild almost his entire body — his feet, ankles, legs, pelvis, ribs, lung, arm, cheeks, even his right eye. It took him a swift two months in the hospital to relearn how to walk and talk. And it wasn’t only his miraculous survival that earned him his status as a medical marvel and the talk of Sunnybrook for years to come — it was also the fact that just half a year after the accident, he was cycling a 127-kilometre marathon in the Italian mountains for charity (more on that in a minute).
Calabro is right — he certainly did surprise everybody, and his story is still a baffling one over a year later. When asked to divulge his secret to such a remarkable recovery, Calabro admits he’s at a loss. But he does offer up some guesses, the first being his medical team, who quite literally transformed him into an iron — if not bionic — man, fixing his shattered limbs with titanium plates, rods and screws. (“It’s a joke every time I go through customs,” he says.)
Then he thanks his bike. Luckily, in the year before his accident, Calabro had taken to exercising on his bicycle instead of hitting the gym, over time building up the strength that would ultimately save his body from being destroyed in the accident.
Today, “Cycling is the only thing that doesn’t hurt,” says Calabro. Every Sunday morning he and a group of friends meet at The Cookie Crumble in Kleinburg to embark on a 70-, 80- or sometimes even a 100-km ride through the city streets. And, of course, there are the five marathons he’s cycled in the last year, including the tumultuous Gran Fondo Ride in Terracina, Italy, which he and 78 friends (“Team Revolution”) completed to raise $500,000 for the Humber River Hospital Foundation, and another 160-km ride in Miami in November 2016.
“Carm was such an incredible inspiration throughout the training process for all these races,” says Rob Fallone, a longtime friend of Calabro’s and a fellow rider for Team Revolution, which has raised a whopping total of $1.7 million for the hospital. “He’s even better at cycling than he was before the accident. It’s a real testament to the fact that with your mind, you can overcome anything.”
And then there’s P.C. White — Calabro’s personal lifesaver.
“He saved my life,” says Calabro, who invited P.C. White to his 60th birthday in May of 2016, which he explains was more a celebration of life than of turning another year older. Guests were asked to donate money to the Mackenzie Vaughan Hospital in lieu of gifts (and ended up raising more than $107,000). P.C. White was the guest of honour at the party, sitting next to Calabro at the head table.
“I was in absolute shock when I heard from Calabro after those six months — it was like getting an email from a ghost,” says P.C. White. “But it reminded me that things really do happen for a reason.”
P.C. White doesn’t know what prompted him to choose that National Sports parking lot that afternoon, but he says that as much as his timely rescue helped Calabro, it also helped himself. He had been in the midst of his own season of challenge and change, having a few weeks earlier been one of the first responders on the scene of a gruesome accident on the 401 in Ajax that claimed six lives. Shortly after that, he and his wife separated.
Discovering that Calabro had made it after all was a poignant experience for P.C. White, and reuniting with him after they had both endured very different struggles marked the end of the storm in his personal life.
It’s fitting, then, that Calabro’s fourth and final survival secret is the positivity he’s gripped since the moment he opened his eyes at the hospital. The first thing he saw was his wife, and she made him a promise: “Don’t worry about it. You were in an accident. But you’re going to be okay — you’re going to be even better than before.”
“Never tell yourself, ‘No, that’s not going to happen’ — you have to tell yourself you’re going to do it,” says Calabro. “You can’t stop your dreams, and you can’t stop willpower. So don’t stop until you have the strength, even if it’s only to lift a finger.”
While Calabro still suffers from chronic pain due to the amount of metal in his body, he’s been able to wean off his morphine patches at a quick rate, and he aims to soon be rid of them completely. But for now, this miracle man has accomplished enough by owning his accident, rather than letting his accident own him — an accident that, as his wife promised, left him as an even better man than he was before. And with each statistic he defies and each marathon he tackles, he further inspires his community, just like he inspired the police officer that helped save his life.
“Most people look at [my accident] as such an unfortunate day, but I look at it more like, ‘What a lucky day I had,’ because it could have been a lot worse,” says Calabro. “I don’t look at what I lost, I look at what I gained. I actually see life a lot different than I used to before. I appreciate everything, where before I would take things for granted. Everything has a meaning.”
Photography By Geoff Fitzgerald