IDA, MICHIGAN -- He was the most seriously injured survivor of a bus crash that killed five of his college baseball teammates, their driver, and his wife. Now, Tim Berta is able to stand and talk, things his doctors weren't sure he'd be able to do. And as News 11's Jerry Anderson found out, his efforts along the road to recovery are an inspiration to many.
Berta was sitting in the front of the Bluffton University baseball team bus when it crashed in the pre-dawn hours of March 2nd. The students had been on their way to Sarasota, Fla., to play in a double-header with Eastern Mennonite University before heading to Ft. Myers to participate in the Gene Cusic Classic baseball tournament.
Atlanta Police spokesman Joe Cobb says the driver apparently mistook an exit lane for part of the carpool lane. When that lane ended in a "T" intersection, the bus continued over the side of the overpass, tumbled over a fence and guard rail, and landed on its left side.
The crash killed four players and the bus driver and his wife that day. Another player died a week later. Several people, including the team's coach and several players, were hospitalized in Atlanta.
Tim Berta had severe head injuries from the crash, and brain injuries. If not for quick work by surgeons in Atlanta, he may have died, too.
Jerry Anderson says he first met Tim in May. Weak, hardly able to lift his head without help, and certainly not walking or talking. His brain injury was that severe. Two months later, out of the hospital and back home in Ida, Anderson says the progress Tim Berta has made approaches a miracle.
When asked how it felt to get home to Ida, Tim was able to reply in a strong voice, "Unreal. It was awesome." His speech is still a little slow after his brain injury, but doctors expect that to come back within 6 to 12 months.
Tim doesn't remember his first hospital visit with Anderson in May. Nor does he remember anything about the crash, which Tim himself says it a good thing. "I feel it's a blessing, because I would remember the pain," he said.
Tim's parents just got these pictures developed of those first critical days after the bus crash. For Karen and Rob, the low point came when Tim got a form of pneumonia yet needed life-saving surgery. "It was very unnerving to sign that form from the doctor," Rob Berta said, "And on it, it says 'possible outcome -- death.'"
Karen's mom gave her frightened daughter two words -- "have faith." They did. Tim pulled through, and the Bertas credit the prayers of others for bringing their son this far. That, and as they told Jerry Anderson, something about Tim himself. "Tim is such a tough-minded person," said Karen. "He's such a hard worker."
Tim is still working hard with hours of therapy several days a week. He told Anderson that sometimes his circumstances make him feel angry. Yet he admits also to feeling something else. "Grateful, because I survived the accident," Tim said. In fact, his parents reminded him how lucky he was on the day they told him his teammates had died.
For himself, Tim still harbors his earlier dreams of becoming a nurse and says he can't wait to be able to walk around and eat whatever he wants. Why a nurse anesthetist, Anderson wondered? In his answer, heart and humor. "It would help people who had to get surgery," Tim began. Laughing slightly, he added, "And the money."
The road to recovery remains long for Tim, but he and his family believe. Karen recently told Tim that he's her hero. "I said because you're in the game, and we're losing by a lot, and you're not giving up," Karen said. "You're playing to win, and you're my hero."
Then, for Anderson, a moment. Tim wanted to show Jerry how he can stand. From what he saw just two months ago, Jerry says he's blown away. And he's not alone. "What Tim is doing is inspiring people out there," said his father. "We've gotten so many letters from people who've told us they are so inspired by his courage, his strength."
"I'm loving that, because that's building some people up out there that need it," Rob added.
"I want to be an inspiration to someone who kinds feels sad or lonely," Tim said.
The Bertas still covet your prayers and thank everyone for their support. Sometimes a card from a perfect stranger will arrive, and Karen says "that will keep us going for days."
Count on News 11 to follow Tim Berta's recovery as it continues.