SLIDELL, LA (WVUE) - Many families will gather together to give thanks this Thanksgiving. But for the Stephens family in Slidell, the holiday takes on a whole new meaning this year.
On July 17, Mike Stephens was riding his motorcycle to a memorial service in Livingston Parish with his 13-year-old daughter along for the ride. A piece of metal came loose from the bike, and caught on the rumble strip on the shoulder of I-12, causing him to lose control and crash.
Mike's wife, Jessie, was nine months pregnant at the time. She remembers the phone call and the panic that set in when she caught her first glimpse at the interstate near the crash site.
"All I'm doing is waiting and looking at all this traffic and thinking that's my family up there. And I wanted to get out of the car and run. That was really hard. That was a hard day," she said.
As word of the accident reached Northshore Church in Slidell that morning, Pastor Larry McEwan and his congregation enlisted Heaven's help. Mike and Jessie both serve as volunteers in the children's ministry at the church. Jessie said McEwan interrupted the service that day.
"Our church held hands across aisles and prayed for my husband while he was still laying in the road," Jessie said.
Mike was airlifted to University Medical Center in New Orleans and slipped into a coma, with multiple broken bones. Even though he had a helmet on, his brain swelled, which required the removal of part of his skull, and life-saving surgery.
While Mike's daughter would recover from her injuries, Jessie says doctors had to resuscitate Mike twice.
"I still can see it. The way the machine was breathing so hard for him. His body was jerking every time it was pushing air into his lungs. I didn't know at that point if I was ever gonna get Mike back," she said.
Jessie said she also did not know if Mike would ever meet their new daughter. She delivered a baby girl just days after the crash, while Mike was still in a coma.
Mike slowly improved, regaining movement, thinking clearly, talking and walking with assistance.
"He was laying there and I was like, 'You're so strong Mike- you're gonna pull through this. I know you, I believe in you.' I said, 'They don't believe it, they don't know Mike Stephens the way I know Mike Stephens.' He goes, 'They will.' That's when I knew he'd be back."
Mike stayed in the hospital for two and a half months. In the meantime, people who attend Northshore Church stepped in to help the family regain their bearings.
"The ladies of our church provided meals every night for just over two months. For a week after he came home, they were still giving us dinners so I could do other things to take care of my family," Jessie said.
A group of guys from their church kept up the yard, mowing the grass. When the Stephens house flooded over the summer a crew from the church came over with Shop Vacs, got on their hands and knees and installed a brand new floor, no questions asked.
Jessie said, "When tragedy strikes, without that village I don't know how we could have done it. How I could have managed taking care of kids, meals, grocery shopping, a house and a sick husband. So there just have been people in our lives who didn't say "Let us know what we can do to help you'. They just showed up."
It would appear greater New Orleans has some real life Saints. For the Stephens family, it's just one of many reasons this holiday to give thanks.